EDITORIAL: Fallout of a border incident
After an American plane bombed a madrassa on the Pak-Afghan border in South Waziristan, the NWFP assembly has reacted strongly by passing a unanimous resolution asking the federal government to lodge a strong protest with Washington over what it calls “flagrant violation of Pakistan’s air space”. The resolution made reference to Pakistan’s “independence and integrity” and demanded assurances that “such incidents are not repeated in the future”. As it stands, the resolution is couched in moderate language and its demand for assurances is justified. Although the Foreign Office in Islamabad is still investigating the incident, the fact that no one has died will help close the case with assurances that great care would be exercised in the future when operations are undertaken close to the Pakistani border.
The US military version is that a Pakistani border scout had taken a pot shot at an American patrol on the Afghan side, after which he had fled into a nearby building with his companions. After that, a US warplane was asked to drop two 500-pound bombs on the “building”. The handout also claimed that the said building was inside Afghan territory, “300 metres from a Pakistani check post”. The counter-version from South Waziristan is that the said building was in fact a madrassa which was bombed but that there were no casualties as the seminarians were all on leave. Local eyewitnesses said there was an exchange of hot words between the two patrols, after which fire was exchanged, leaving some Americans injured. The US-led forces in Afghanistan are allowed to use Pakistani air space for transit but not for combat.
The reaction in Pakistan, given the new polarisation, has been instant. Reference is made to the unfair treatment of Pakistan by the United States in return for the assistance Pakistan had provided against terrorism, including the deployment of 70,000 troops along the border to flush out suspected Al Qaeda terrorists. Public resentment over the treatment of Pakistanis in the United States and the arrest in Lahore of doctors for alleged complicity with Al Qaeda has thus been compounded by the perception of Pakistan’s “servility” towards the United States. However, Pakistan’s official version of the incident is still awaited. Unfortunately, when this version comes out and exonerates the American patrol, or blames it on a “misunderstanding”, no credence is likely to be given to it. Such is the atmosphere in Pakistan today. In 1998, the American bombing of the Taliban training camps from the sea created a lot of alarm in Pakistan when a missile fell short and landed inside our territory. The most vociferous condemnation had then come from the leaders whose parties are now in power in the NWFP and Balochistan.
The truth of the matter is that such incidents are bound to take place during such operations. American troops operating in Eastern Afghanistan are supposed to be working in “cooperation” with Pakistan and a firefight like the one that happened on the border should not take place. Therefore a more thorough going briefing is required on both sides of the border where patrolling is going on. Our troops are justified in guarding the border strictly and American patrols on the other side should know and respect our concerns. By the same token, our men should know exactly where the unwritten “rules” exhort them to be cooperative rather than hostile to the Americans. Only thus will such incidents be prevented from repeating themselves. *
The Seventh Fleet story
British official papers declassified after 30 years have revealed that India wanted to annex territory in West Pakistan too during the Indo-Pak war of 1971, which ended with the creation of Bangladesh. The papers relate to a summit between British premier Edward Heath and the American president Richard Nixon. The transcripts say that the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was planning to attack West Pakistan and occupy some territory permanently. This plan was given up only after President Nixon made the threatening gesture of moving the Seventh American Naval Fleet to the area of conflict. The papers also speak of a growing US-China equation in parallel to India’s signing a mutual defence treaty with the Soviet Union. General Yahya Khan, who had facilitated the famous secret visit of Henry Kissinger to Beijing, had informed Nixon that India had seven divisions concentrated along the border with West Pakistan while eight were operating on the border of East Pakistan.
Was Pakistan saved by President Nixon? Most Pakistanis think nothing of the Seventh Fleet story because they connect it with the possible prevention of conflict in East Pakistan. Where was the Seventh Fleet, they ask, when India invaded East Pakistan? They tend to judge America’s friendship on the basis of this yardstick. But the truth is that the Seventh Fleet was moved to prevent India from invading a vulnerable West Pakistan. William Bundy, ex-editor of “Foreign Affairs”, in his biography of Nixon, “The Tangled Web”, explains Nixon’s early hatred of China, Japan and India under Indira Gandhi. He dubs the Pakistan-India war of 1965 “a Pakistani rout”. Of the 1971 war, he writes to explain Nixon’s resistance to almost universal Western consensus against the Pakistan army’s genocide in East Pakistan. But Nixon was a master of realpolitik and preferred to do business with General Yahya Khan and never abandoned his suspicion of Indira Gandhi and India. *