<a href="http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/middle-east-focus">Middle East In Focus</a>
This week’s errant airstrike by ISAF forces — which killed 25 Pakistani soldiers — has raised the ire of all segments of Pakistan’s political spectrum. The scale of the mistake and its potential consequences for U.S.-Pakistani relations and broader U.S. efforts in the region have caused some in the region to become dismayed. Many are concerned over what they perceive as American over-reliance on military force, particularly the use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
In Pakistan, the news of the airstrike and death of the Pakistani troops drew immediate condemnation. Writing for the Pakistani daily The Nation, Azam Khalil calls the ISAF actions “naked aggression,” adding, “the Americans, who have been demanding that Pakistan expand its military operation against the Taliban and, at the same time, conducting secret negotiations with different militant groups in Afghanistan, will have to answer some tough questions after the massacre of Pakistani soldiers. Undoubtedly, this attack amounts to murder and must be dealt with according to Pakistan’s laws....Moreover, the U.S. should ease the restrictions that it has imposed on the provision of equipment required by Pakistani military to fight the war on terror. This time round the Americans have to come straight and clean, otherwise relations will continue to spiral down that will not be in anyone’s interest.”
Reacting to news that the Zardari government has decided to boycott the Bonn conference, the Pakistani Observer editorial suggested “The real issue is that despite acknowledging the critical role of Pakistan, some quarters are taking the country for granted and are hatching conspiracies to sow seeds of perennial conflict and tension in the region once occupation forces withdraw from Afghanistan. The Government must not deter from pursuing the principled-based approach to the issue as people of Pakistan, Armed Forces and the Government are on the same page....It is time we respond to the aspirations of the people as epitomized in resolutions of the APC and Parliament.”
Others within Pakistan have tried to take a more measured tone. Mahir Ali, in an op-ed for the respected Pakistani daily Dawn, was quick to point out that “[g]iven the level of national indignation, it is inevitable that calls for a more robust response will be heard. However, there isn’t a great deal more Pakistan can reasonably be expected to do. Ceasing all cooperation with the U.S. and NATO may not be an utterly unviable option, but it’s possible consequences need to be thought through....The competing narratives seem irreconcilable, but NATO has promised a thorough investigation and invited Pakistan to participate. It would be fatuous to turn down the offer. There can obviously be no guarantee that the inquiry will reach a mutually acceptable conclusion. But there is certainly no harm in trying.”
Across the border in Afghanistan, observers are concerned about the effect the fallout will have on their stability. In Outlook Afghanistan, Abbas Daiyar writes: “The U.S.-Pakistan relations seem to be well on its way to eventual demise after an ISAF airstrike across the border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last week....It’s time for both countries to stop lies and deceit and decide either they are allies or not. The U.S. should ensure Pakistani military that their presence in Afghanistan is not a threat....Pakistan should persuade the Taliban to come to table talks and give up violence and help the U.S. and Afghanistan to eliminate those who continue terror. Similarly, the U.S. and Afghanistan should assure Pakistan about their legitimate security and strategic concerns on the endgame in Afghanistan.”
Among the Gulf dailies, the Oman Tribune stands out for its criticism of Washington’s overreliance on military power: “What’s happening to the hi-tech U.S. military? What’s happened to all those precision strikes the Americans tom-tom about so much? Have they lost their touch and begun to blunder?...The time has come for the United States to change its methods and be circumspect. It cannot take the Afghans or for that matter anybody for granted anymore. It must realize that its heydays are over and it’s looked upon with suspicion in many parts of the globe. And that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan. A better calibration of its political and military policies, therefore, is necessary. Or else, Washington will have to take terrible blows from which it will not be easy to recover. Vietnam should not be forgotten.”
The Khaleej Times editorial draws attention to what it believes amounts to “NATO’s belligerence…. Pakistan should take up this issue of off-and-on friendly onslaughts on its troops and unwarranted trespassing in all seriousness. Either there is some ambiguity or an intentional attempt due to which such incidents keep happening. The issue needs to be investigated....The war on terrorism is too controversial to stand the litmus tests of such bizarre incidents. The doctrine of unilateralism is playing havoc in the region, and there couldn’t be a more appropriate time for huddling of heads for formulating a cohesive strategy. NATO and the U.S. forces have to watch their steps as they patrol the Durand Line.”
But for others, such as those at the other Gulf daily The Peninsula, “The deadly attack gives us a sense of déjà vu. If the victims of the attack are Pakistani soldiers and if the perpetrator of the crime is the NATO troops, then we can infer that the attack was a mistake. A mistake by the NATO troops. But the problem is that this is a mistake they have been committing with impunity for the past several months, despite several, severe warnings from the Pakistani authorities....An independent investigation is welcome, but what is more important is to learn from the mistakes and take steps to avoid a repetition. Unfortunately, NATO and the U.S. haven’t learnt from their past deadly errors, and if they had, yesterday’s fatal mistake could have been avoided. The NATO doesn’t have to wait for the results of the investigation to take corrective measures.”
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