U.S. Rapping Hard Again at Pakistan’s Door
KARACHI - Pakistan defence experts and observers say the country could expect another unilateral raid by U.S. forces, similar to the one they carried out in Abbottabad on May 2, that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The sentiment emerged after President Barack Obama told the BBC on May 22, just before he left for his European tour, that if there were another high value Al-Qaeda target, the U.S. would not hesitate to repeat a similar attack.
"It has happened and it will happen again," warns veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, who said he is not surprised at Obama’s statement.
"He had never ruled that out and many in the U.S. administration, including Hillary Clinton, had said so in so many words," said Yusufzai.
Yusufzai and others here believe that bin Laden’s capture in Abbottabad is being seen as a confirmation of Pakistan’s double game, of its ties with militants, and its harboring of terrorists, including Al-Qaeda members.
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Leon Panetta had earlier said that there was concern that if notified ahead of time, some Pakistani officials could have alerted bin Laden.
The distrust between the U.S. and Pakistan has grown, and the likelihood of other similar covert unilateral attacks to target other Al-Qaeda leaders remains, despite assurances from the U.S. that the Abbottabad incident would not be repeated without notifying Islamabad.
In as strong a statement as it could muster, the Pakistan foreign office said on May 3 the Abbottabad raid "cannot be taken as a rule."
An official statement said, "Such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the U.S. Such actions undermine cooperation and may also sometimes constitute a threat to international peace and security."
"I suppose we cannot hope for improvement of relations until the war on terror comes to an end which, in turn, depends on when the U.S. will find those it is chasing," says Ayesha Siddiqa, a defence analyst.
Obama told the BBC that while the U.S. respected Pakistan’s sovereignty, it could not "allow someone who is actively planning to kill our people or our allies’ people…. We can’t allow those kind of active plans to come to fruition without us taking some action.
"I had made no secret. I had said this when I was running for the presidency, that if I had a clear shot at bin Laden... we’d take it."
Defense analysts say that if a repeat of the bin Laden raid happens, Pakistan is unlikely to retaliate. "We can’t react," says Brigadier Asad Munir, a former intelligence chief responsible for the tribal zone. "We can’t fight the U.S. but following this statement, we can surely tell them we cannot cooperate anymore."
"The army will never shoot down a U.S. helicopter or even a drone as it may lead to a wider confrontation which they cannot afford," says Yusufzai. "It’s not the first time; our military said there will be ‘no U.S. boots on the ground’. Yet we all know of their presence in the tribal areas of both North and South Waziristan."
Munir acknowledged the presence of those forces and identified them as ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) teams but, he said, "never once has any American soldier ever shot anyone on our soil."
Munir says the recent statements coming from the Obama administration are creating more problems given the prevalent anti-U.S. sentiments in Pakistan.
"The raid itself was wrong, but the statements afterwards were undermining Pakistan," Munir said. "While I understand the secrecy for this bin Laden operation, they need not have cut down the Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) to size."
Increasingly, within Pakistan, there is much hopelessness and despair. Analysts say the government has lost credibility, as has the military, and that the two have deceived the people for too long with hollow statements.
"The people will be very angry if another incident happens," says Yusufzai who finds "no real light at the end of the tunnel.
"Because they have lost faith in democratic institutions, violence will ensue which may even result in overthrowing of the present government. People have now come to believe that only violence can bring change."
For now, there are clear signals that the U.S. is hell-bent on dismantling the Haqqani network, the most powerful of the Afghan Taliban group with bases in North Waziristan in north-west Pakistan. The U.S. had long been pushing the Pakistan army to take action, something like a military operation that was carried out in the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2009.
On his last visit, in April, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen was persistent in demanding that Pakistan act against the Haqqani network. He even accused Pakistan of maintaining a "long standing relationship" with the militant group, stressing that this issue remained central to the strain between the U.S. and Pakistan.
"The U.S. wants to win the war in Afghanistan at any cost," says Yusufzai. "A superpower like the U.S. can’t be seen losing to a ragtag group like the Taliban. So there will be pressure on everyone, especially Pakistan from the U.S. to support it. But we have to see our interest as well. We cannot be giving into each and every demand made by the U.S. specially at the cost of destabilizing our country and getting into internal strife."