Despite losing over two dozen troops to trigger-happy Americans, the Pakistanis are truly in a festive mood. United and relieved, to say the least!
The burden of a forced marriage is offloaded and, once again, the sanction-hardened nation is ready to pay the price of defiance. Similar was the atmosphere after the 1998 tit-for-tat nuclear tests aimed to snub a jeering eastern neighbor. Now, the Western side spills patriotism and dignity amongst the 188 million citizens of Pakistan, whose literal meaning is “Land of the Pure.” Call it the Green Spring if you will. Across the mighty Atlantic, a Nobel Peace laureate acts deaf and blind in the cozy confines of the White House. This time around, Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama’s pilots eliminated the soldiers of a friendly army instead of the usual Florida-operated drones releasing hellfire missiles on the suspected residents of mud huts in Godforsaken lands along the Pak-Afghan border.
Consumed by eurozone woes, Chancellor Angela Merkel felt the tremors of an earthquake when Pakistan refused to attend the much-hyped Bonn Conference on Afghanistan. With alleged “trouble-maker” Pakistan opting out, the high-profile event remains reduced to a monologue. The German chancellor felt “very, very” sorry about Pakistan’s decision but uttered no words of condolence for victims from the Western tool of proxy wars.
Turkey’s Ahmet Davutoğlu touched Pakistani hearts, as the loss of a Pakistani soldier to him is equal to that of a Turk. Beijing followed suit, while Moscow and Tehran stepped forward for political gain. The over-confident United Arab Emirates rushed its foreign minister to Islamabad, not in solidarity with the victims but for the sake of the so far apparent aggressor. The United States thought Emirati influence would force Pakistan to reverse its decision to vacate the vital Shamsi Airbase in the Balochistan province, where it maintains deadline unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The Gulf received a rare snub for acting as the proxies of a superpower.
To many, Islamabad’s drift to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization sounds more logical to analysts. Suddenly, ever-present India became irrelevant and went missing with total radio silence. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who had hastened to accuse Pakistan for Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani’s murder in the secure districts of Kabul, offered no apology but telephonic condolences. For him, the NATO action was no provocation or violation of sovereignty and law. He knew Pakistan would not reconsider boycotting the Bonn conference but he said a word or two to his counterpart over the phone for the sake of headlines. Saudis may have some cards up their sleeves to cool off the Pakistani government and military’s anger. However, with the Arab Spring blossoming all over West Asia and North Africa, Riyadh won’t back Washington as openly as it did after American private spy Raymond Davis claimed three Pakistani lives in broad daylight in Lahore this year.
For the Pakistani nation, friends and foes are exposed. When more vulnerable, the Pakistani people stand firm and explicit. Back-to-back incidents exposing US bullying of Pakistan brought to the fore unimaginable levels of deterioration in relations. Some believe that the US-Pakistan cold war has heated up with the spilled blood of two dozen soldiers. Though protesters’ placards read condemnation of NATO, for them “it is a gang of hired soldiers to wage proxy wars for Washington.”
Not all in Pakistan are content with the worsening state of relations with the United States. President Asif Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower, may eventually pay a huge political cost for continuing Musharraf-era pro-America policies. For a change, Pakistan’s Green Spring is steered by its Mr. Do it- Imran Khan, whose Justice Movement promises restoration of sovereignty and elimination of corruption. Washington has suffered serious blows from the Pakistani equivalent of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) with its sit-ins and marches against the NATO supply line and endless drone strikes in tribal regions of the country.
Nonetheless, the US-led attack on Mohmand border posts strengthens the armed forces’ say in the Pakistani deep state or establishment. Though the military has brought some unforgivable embarrassments, including failure to capture Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad and obstructing US intrusion deep inside the country, the generals ride the tide of anti-Americanism resulting from the deaths of 72 Pakistanis in eight NATO attacks over the past three years. With unprecedented insecurity along the western border, the Pakistani armed forces are mightier than the elected but allegedly corrupt government.
The NATO supplies may be interrupted until a reliable mediator convinces the Pakistani troops that there will be no future provocation. Over the last decade, keeping soldiers’ morale high in the terror-stricken region has been a tough challenge. Despite venting their anger and depression, the soldiers keep up the pressure on generals for a more fitting answer to alien intruders. For all practical purposes, the Pakistani civilian and military elite seek new rules of engagement for joining NATO, eliminating extremism from Afghanistan and negotiating its peaceful political transition.
The damage being irreparable, the most recent low in Pakistan-US relations would take its toll on cooperation against terrorism. Pakistan’s humiliation, despite 36,000 human sacrifices, may even impinge on Obama’s Afghanistan exit plans. The Karachi port is inevitable too as the Central Asian NATO supply route is not only more expensive but also vulnerable to Islamist attacks. For better or for worse, Washington would have to extend an apology from the topmost level besides revisiting terms of engagement with Islamabad.
For a bitter Pakistan and desperate Afghanistan, there are hardly a few avenues leading to mutual coexistence and peace. The successful İstanbul conference that brought Islamabad and Kabul to the table offers a much-needed glimmer of hope. Turkey would have to take greater ownership of Afghanistan’s transition before and after allied troops’ drawdown. On questions of sovereignty and accountability, the Pakistani public has already taken the Turkish route.