ISLAMABAD — While the Pakistani military is in no mood to quietly return to full cooperation with NATO/ISAF forces in the aftermath of the Nov. 25-26 attacks on Pakistani border posts, a “restart” in the Pak-U.S relationship is still possible, experts said.
Brian Cloughley, former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, said the Pakistani military — specifically the Army — does not want to settle for a low-key response from the U.S.
“The Army doesn’t want a ‘quiet’ acknowledgement. What it wants is a proper apology — publicly,” he said.
The Army is united in this opinion, and if a public apology is not forthcoming the considerable ill-will directed toward the U.S. will continue, “and there will be continuing lack of cooperation.”
The Pakistani response to the Jan. 23 NATO/ISAF report into the attacks, which killed 24 Pakistani troops, was predictable, he said.
The accompanying Inter Services Press Release (ISPR) statement says Pakistan disagrees with “several portions and findings” of the NATO/ISAF report, which are deemed to be “factually not correct.”
The basis of the NATO/ISAF report, “self defense” and “proportional use of force,” is rejected as “contrary to facts.”
The ISPR statement reiterates Pakistan contacted NATO/ISAF forces “within minutes of initiation of US/NATO fire,” and rejects attributing partial responsibility for the attacks to Pakistani forces as “unjustified and unacceptable.”
It also states, “The fundamental cause of the incident of 26th November 2011 was the failure of US/ISAF to share its near-border operation with Pakistan at any level.”
In addition, it lists “the complicated chain of command, complex command and control structure and unimaginative/intricate Rules of Engagement, as well as lack of unified military command in Afghanistan,” as further causes of the attacks.
It ends by stating NATO/ISAF forces “violated all mutually agreed procedures with Pakistan for near-border operations put in place to avert such uncalled for actions,” and reiterates the attacks were an “unprovoked engagement” that took place inside Pakistan and were therefore a violation of NATO/ISAF’s mandate.
Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, associate professor at the school of Politics and International Relations at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University, said Pakistan’s response to the NATO/ISAF report has tried to prove what has already been stated by the Pakistani side, and that there “doesn’t seem to be a desire to let this go.”
It details that NATO/ISAF forces had carried out previous operations in the vicinity and were fully aware of the course of the border and location of Pakistani positions. It also says that some operations on the Afghan side of the border were undertaken by NATO/ISAF forces in support of Pakistani anti-Taliban operations on its side of the border.
Using photographs and aerial images to reinforce its assertions, the Pakistan statement also rejects claims NATO/ISAF forces were fired upon by the Pakistani posts. It specifically criticizes the NATO/ISAF report’s mandate, which did not include affixing direct responsibility for the attacks, and that it implied “Pakistan was considered in an adversarial role.”
Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, ISAF spokesman, was unable to comment on the Pakistani response and referred questions to CENTCOM as the investigative report into the attacks was carried out by CENTCOM, not ISAF.
He said ISAF was only able to comment on “the recommendations that CENTCOM made in the original report.”
“The recommendations in the CENTCOM report are designed to work toward building a positive relationship and constructive cross-border coordination measures to ensure this type of incident does not ever occur again. US and ISAF are taking these recommendations and are moving forward toward full implementation,” he said.
No response was forthcoming from CENTCOM, however, or from the defense section at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.
Jaspal is optimistic there is a chance for the Pak-U.S. relationship to be “restarted,” but “not as it was previously” “There won’t be a ‘blank check’ as there was previously; there will restrictions,” he said.
The main factor is the ongoing block on NATO supplies transiting Pakistani territory.
“The Pakistan supply route will probably remain closed, and the northern routes will continue to be used and expanded, if possible,” said Cloughley. “There is already a mammoth increase in air supply. The costs are horrific.”