The first anniversary of Operation Geronimo is a moment to reflect for all Pakistanis, including the government, the armed forces and security agencies. While the operation was a success in eliminating Osama bin Laden (OBL) by the US Navy SEALs, but it targeted Pakistan’s sensitivities. Whereas on the one hand, the US State Department, Pentagon and the CIA have been chest-thumping about targeting their number one enemy: OBL; on the other hand, their deriding of the erstwhile ally, Pakistan, left a bad taste. (This tirade continued despite the fact that the Pakistani Parliament took cognisance of the “presence” of OBL in Abbottabad and the possibility of intelligence failure on the part of security agencies.) The US clandestine mission, more or less, was successful because the security apparatus in Pakistan was not expecting an attack from its ally in the war on terror. Relations between the CIA and ISI had been souring since the Raymond Davis affair, but in the decade following 9/11, Pakistan had gone the whole nine yards in apprehending over 600 Al-Qaeda operatives.
After the briefing to a joint session of the Pakistani Parliament by the army, air force and ISI Chiefs; the rap on their knuckles by the legislators; and the formation of a judicial commission to inquire into the May 2 episode, the hatred against Pakistan should have reduced. However, it reached a crescendo culminating in the November 26, 2011, Nato attack on the Salala checkpost at the Pak-Afghan border increasing the trust deficit between Washington and Islamabad. Some collateral damage owing to the fog of war may be condoned, but this particular attack involving the US forces, appeared to be premeditated and deliberate since it continued for over 150 minutes and resulted in the loss of 24 Pakistani soldiers and officers’ lives.
Revisiting the origin of Operation Enduring Freedom - the official name used by the American administration for the Afghan war - one is struck by the fact that Pakistan bore the brunt of the operations, but is paying heavily for the failures of US forces. To begin with, the culpability of OBL being the real perpetrator of the 9/11 attack may have some credence, but the handling of the case contravenes all norms of justice and fairplay. In response to the US President’s demand of the Afghan government to hand over OBL for trials as a war criminal, the Taliban demanded to examine the evidence against him stating that if he was implicated in the heinous crime, they would be willing to hand him over to a neutral third party for trial. A trigger-happy George Bush, hell-bent upon exacting revenge for the 9/11 tragedy, became oblivious of local Afghan traditions of hospitality, as well as the demands of international justice, and attacked Afghanistan.
Incessant bombing and the USA’s use of reprehensible weapons, like the daisycutter bombs, mowed down innocent Afghan women and children and unseated the Taliban regime, but failed to eliminate them. Pakistan had proposed that the US bring them to the dialogue table, rationalising that they would be willing to negotiate the terms of peace. Alas, submerged in the ecstasy of “triumph”, the US did not consider this option then. After surviving the heavy bombing of Tora Bora, the Taliban reorganised and waged a series of guerrilla campaigns creating serious problems for Nato, Isaf and the US and forcing the alliance to seek dialogue with the militants now.
The Taliban and Al-Qaeda, meanwhile, turned upon Pakistan to punish it for its US alliance. Suicide bomb attacks and assaulting military and civilian installations became the order of the day; Pakistan has to-date sacrificed over 40,000 lives and lost over $69 billion in the ongoing war on terror. To add insult to injury, despite cooperating and handing over nearly 600 Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives to the US, Pakistan is criticised by it for “not doing enough.”
This May 2, instead of contemplating the ways and means of rekindling the blame game that will only strengthen the terrorists, Washington and Islamabad should bury the hatchet, and while respecting Pakistan’s sovereignty combine resources to combat a common enemy.
n The writer is a political and defence analyst.