Reopening of NATO supply lines
Asif Haroon Raja
Finding that Pak Army was not mending its ways and continuing to defy Washington’s commands that were against the interest of Pakistan, NATO struck a deadly blow to it at Salala on the night of 26 November and killed 24 soldiers and injured 13. This disgraceful attack was launched to terrorize an ally and to sound the Army that such like unilateral attacks would continue in future if it didn’t submit to its demands. When CJSC Gen Wynne and COAS Gen Kayani compelled the government to stop doing business as usual with USA, and it was decided to block Ground Lines of Communications (GLOC) for NATO, close Shamsi airbase, cancel visits to USA and meetings with US officials, boycott Bonn summit and revise terms of engagement with the US, NATO and ISAF, it surprised Washington but took it lightly imagining that it was a passing cosmetic show to placate the Army and the public. It didn’t expect the NRO cleansed government to hold its ground for long. Moreover, real pressure was not built up since transportation of perishable items by air continued.
When the restrictions got extended from days to weeks and months because of deliberations by the parliamentary committee on national security and over 5000 NATO containers got stranded in Pakistan, forcing USA to use alternative supply lines in the north which were expensive and time consuming, Washington started maximizing pressure on Islamabad and GHQ. Old pressure tools of withholding release of close support fund, stopping economic/military assistance, threatening to apply sanctions and carryout unilateral military strikes were applied.
The US Congress proposed blocking $650 million unless Islamabad agreed to resume supplies. Infamous Dana Rohrabacher who had moved a controversial bill demanding right of self-determination for the Baloch people proposed ceasing all kinds of assistance to Pakistan. The US lawmakers have started dubbing Pakistan as a black hole for American aid.
Amid mounting tensions as a result of offensive statements by the US officials, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen who had earlier on made his invitation to President Zardari to attend the hyped Chicago Summit conditional to reopening of supply lines, tried to ease tensions by sending an unconditional invitation and thus entice Pakistani leadership to reciprocate unconditionally.
There is a widely held perception that convicted PM Gilani badly in need of legitimacy that he is still recognized by the west as an operational PM, during his recent official visit to London got so moved by the warm reception extended to him and his huge entourage of freeloaders that he readily consented to his host Cameron’s suggestion to resume supplies. On his return he gave a green light and the announcement to this effect was to be made on 15 May but in the DCC meeting, CJSC, COAS and DG ISI prevailed upon the relenting doves to hold their horses for a while.
Notwithstanding that a decision in principle has been arrived at to restore supply of non-lethal items only using road and railway services as was evident from Hina Rabbani’s statement that Pakistan wants to become a facilitator and an enabler and not a blocker, and that ‘we should move on’, the role of other actors is also to be analyzed. It takes two to tango and you cannot clap with one hand.
11 years of experience has shown that Pakistan has all along been at the receiving end and been constantly ceding ground without reciprocity from the other end. In response to never-ending ‘do more’ mantra, Pakistan has been on the move irrespective of the pitfalls of GWOT and its negative impact on Pakistan’s socio-politico-economic and military health.
The US and NATO and our weak-kneed leaders want Pakistan to ‘move on’ and ignore devastating incidents like 2 May and 26 November, otherwise Pakistan will get isolated. They say that Pakistan cannot afford to annoy 48 countries whose troops are stationed in Afghanistan and need supplies. Eleven years have passed since 9/11 occurred. Has the US ‘moved on’?
Did India ‘move on’ after Mumbai attacks which took place three and a half years ago? Has it ‘moved on’ on the UN Resolutions over Kashmir dispute and on other contentious issues? Has Israel ‘moved on’ to resolve oldest dispute of Palestinians? Have the US, India and Israel got isolated because of their defiance? Why only Pakistan should exhibit large-heartedness and generosity? Isn’t it a fact that 80% fuel and 75% other supplies went through Pakistan between September 2001 and November 2011 free of transit fee? Isn’t it a fact that Pakistan suffered the most in GWOT and paid the heaviest price and was the only one subjected to vicious propaganda campaign from its so-called allies?
When Gen Musharraf submitted to all the seven demands of Washington, everyone in Pakistan said he had no other choice and his decision was in best interest of Pakistan. Today the pseudo intellectuals are again of the same opinion that Pakistan has no choice but to reopen GLOC, otherwise Pakistan will get isolated and will have to bear horrendous consequences. Isn’t Pakistan already going through horrendous times?
In the DCC meeting the military brass argued that before giving a go-ahead signal, a proper methodology should be devised and agreed to by both sides to prevent recurrence of Salala like incidents. Such an assurance in their view had become necessary because of unchanged attitude of the US civil and military leaders and refusal to tender an apology for killing 24 soldiers. They insisted that diplomatic efforts to extract an apology must continue. It was also debated that issue of litigious drone war must be resolved since without amicable resolution of this issue public outrage would not get placated. Methodology to implement new terms of references on ground was also discussed.
The decision has been taken to allow passage to non-lethal items only, as is evident from four containers carrying office stuff crossing Torkham and reaching Kabul on 18 May. President Zardari has left for Chicago to attend the Summit and it is expected that he would be announcing reopening of GLOC during his address. It is however to be seen how it will be ensured that no lethal weapon, equipment, spare part, ammunition, explosive slip across. Have the 5000 or so NATO containers stranded along the roads since late November 2011 been inspected and by whom? If these fully loaded containers carrying lethal items are allowed to enter Afghanistan unchecked, ISAF will not require further refurbishment of its military stocks till end 2014.
Unholy practice of missing containers is well known in which officials within Pakistan were involved. As many as 25-30,000 containers had gone missing during transit from Karachi seaport to Torkham and Chaman border transit points and so far their whereabouts have not been traced. In all probability, weapons and equipment carried by these missing containers were unloaded enroute and distributed among terrorist groups, arms smugglers and militant wings of certain political parties. Such a big racket couldn’t have gone on unnoticed without the active connivance of higher ups. If so, how will it be ensured that containers carry non-lethal items only and in future no container will go missing?
PML-N, Tehrik-e-Insaf, JUI-F and Difah-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) have condemned the decision and term it as capitulation to US pressure. They say if the government had to cave in without extracting an apology for Salala massacre and getting drone attacks stopped, why this drama was played up. They say when the blockade had begun to pinch the ISAF real hard, and the US was more susceptible to Pakistan’s demands, our rulers threw in the towel. They do not agree with Gen John Allen’s contention that closure of supply routes by Pakistan had not affected operational preparedness of ISAF. DPC has announced a long march from Karachi to Peshawar on 27 May to prevent reopening of supply routes. If other parties join the march, the government will have to withhold its decision.