Of incursions and contradictions

Two NATO helicopters violated Pakistani air space on Tuesday in North Waziristan Agency according to a statement by the Pakistan Army, which went on to add: “The troops at the post fired upon the helicopters and, as a result of [the] exchange of fire, two of our soldiers received injuries. Pakistan Army has lodged strong protest and demanded a flag meeting.” The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says it will look into the matter and decide accordingly. NATO forces claim that their helicopters came under fire from across the border and thus had to resort to retaliatory fire. Pakistani officials claim that the helicopters were fired upon because they were about to enter our border. Whatever the truth may be, such ‘incursions’ are not unheard of since North Waziristan is known to be a hotbed of terrorist safe havens. In the past, NATO helicopters have violated Pakistani air space during hot pursuit of militants, which is allowed under the international rules of engagement. The level of mistrust between Pakistan and its western allies is so high that even hot pursuit is treated as intrusion. On the other hand, the drone attacks that took place on Monday during US Senator John Kerry’s visit also pinpointed the growing gulf between Pakistan and the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan. In the midst of all the tensions that exist between the two allies, motivated reports about an American apology vis-à-vis the drone strikes were leaked to the media but have since been denied.

On another note, it was interesting to see that a senior al Qaeda member, Muhammad Ali Qasim Yaqub alias Abu Sohaib Al-Makki, was arrested by our security forces in Karachi on Tuesday. The timing of his arrest is suspect. Such terrorists have a way of emerging and being ‘caught’ by the Pakistani authorities during or after an important US visit. While the ISPR statement hailed Makki’s arrest, the US Embassy in Islamabad was not even aware of his name. BBC reported that Makki “was key courier between Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri” and had been caught on May 4. The contradiction in statements from the American officials and Pakistani ones is in stark contrast.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the US and Pakistan are not on the same page as far as Pakistan’s military spending and compensation is concerned in the war on terror. US officials accuse Pakistan of fudging the figures and have rejected over 40 percent of the $ 3.2 billion plus in claims submitted by our side. During the Musharraf years, there was hardly any oversight of the compensation because of the military dictator’s close relations with the Bush administration. Soon after General Musharraf’s exit, the US has taken up the case of inflated bills. It is hoped that both countries would sit together and work this out instead of fighting over the finances so that the war on terror is not affected adversely. Pakistan, on its part, should make sure that the money and equipment given to fight the militants does not end up in our military’s coffers and is actually spent on this war.

Senator John Kerry returned to the US and gave a relatively positive report on his meetings with the Pakistani leadership, both civilian and military. While Senator Kerry is trying to bridge the differences between Washington and Islamabad, the buck stops with our military establishment to give up its double game. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan is uncertain in light of recent events. This should serve as a warning signal to our leadership who have taken the Americans for a ride for the longest time. It is in our vital interest to preserve this relationship through openness and honesty.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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