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December 27, 2010

Pakistan to US: Don't cross the 'red lines'

The following originally appeared as an editorial in the Business Recorder newspaper (Pakistan)

Don't cross the 'red lines', Pakistan has warned the United States, saying it could complicate counter-terrorism co-operation. One of the red lines is to refrain from landing its boots on Pakistani soil, and the warned 'complication' is that in case of territorial invasion, Pakistani people would not stay neutral and join the side of the Taliban militants - a strong possibility, the taste of which was given to NATO sometime back when scores of its supplies containers, were burnt down in retaliation of an incursion.

Pakistan's position stems from the fact that the NATO and ISAF mandate is restricted to Afghanistan. In fact, even the drone attacks that the CIA is carrying out in the border areas of Pakistan are in violation of international law and are not covered by the UN mandate - which in itself, was against the spirit of the principles of justice. The fact is that Pakistan's co-operation in the US-led NATO military campaign in Afghanistan has lost public support and for the Zardari-Gilani government, it's a hell of an unpopular mission to stay committed to.

No doubt with only six months left for President Obama's deadline to commence troop drawdown in Afghanistan, a kind of angst seems to be pushing his administration to justify withdrawal when the war is far from over and victory is uncertain. The public in the United States and its allies are increasingly critical of their governments' commitment to an unnecessary and unwanted conflict in a far-off Afghanistan. Their perception is that after nine years of bloody battles and murderous raids by the ISAFforces, the adversary remains defiant and largely unsubdued. No wonder their public wouldn't mind their soldiers' quiet departure from Afghanistan irrespective of victory or defeat, but that's not the case for their commanders. So, as the endgame unfolds, the generals are hectically searching for a scapegoat - which, if the recent 'disclosures' in some of the American papers is any indication, is going to be Pakistan. The blame for failure in Afghanistan, now being pinned on Pakistan for allegedly providing 'safe havens' to Afghan insurgents, is gaining unanimity among US military circles to put its boots on the ground in Pakistan, say the newspapers.

Without going into the debate whether the urge to expand military operations into Pakistan will help President Obama vindicate his pledge to begin a troop drawdown next July or not, we in Pakistan would insist that the envisaged incursions entail dangerous consequences not only for the NATO's engagement in Afghanistan but also for the peace of the entire region. The people of Pakistan will stand up to this aggression leaving the military leadership and the government of Pakistan with no option but to make a complete U-turn on its so-called anti-terrorism alliance. If at all there was a justification for the UN mandated invasion of Afghanistan, that's not available anymore. What is now going on in that country is essentially a civil war, where outside interference if mandated by the United Nations, should merely be for peacekeeping and not geared to win victory for a certain group of people. Going by the reports over the past several years, the epicentre of terrorism is now located in Europe and North America where certain sections of the public are increasingly prone to be radicalised - for whatever reasons. Ambassador Hussain Haqqani has rightly pointed out that instead of 'rather than blaming Pakistan, the West should concentrate and focus on how to end increasing radicalisation'.

As they say, for the generals, advancing ahead and winning victories is not as challenging as staging a safe and secure retreat. That seems to be quite a dilemma for the ISAF generalship as it finds itself caught between President Obama's unalterable withdrawal timeline and a battlefield victory that should not appear to be Pyrrhic. After all, what more can Pakistan do - after being fully sucked into an unwanted war with all its enormous collateral cost in terms of loss of life and property, socio-economic turmoil and earning the epithet of the world's most dangerous place to visit.

There is a need for its so-called allies in this war on terrorism to comprehend the myriad thankless consequences Pakistan is suffering in return for its commitment to remain a faithful ally. The truth is that Pakistan's patience with the unsavoury statements and ungrateful behaviour of its allies is wearing thin and has arrived at a tipping point. Should something like the recently reported plan of crossing the 'red lines' come to happen, we would have come to the fork, and today's friends may be tomorrow's foes.


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