Why Salala Was Attacked By NATO?


by Asif Haroon Raja


While the US military and NATO have off and on committed unfriendly and hostile acts against its ally Pakistan since 2006, attack on Salala on 26 November by NATO helicopters killing 24 soldiers and injuring 16 was by far the worst. It was a premeditated and well-calculated massacre meant to give a tough message to Pakistan to behave or face the music. The big question is why this gruesome attack was launched at a time when things are not going well for ISAF and Pakistan’s cooperation in the endgame of Afghanistan is vital. The attack didn’t occur at the spur of the moment but in my reckoning was the cumulative affect of unreasonable grouses which Washington has been gathering against Pakistan over the years. It will be worthwhile to recapitulate some of the major events of the yesteryears.

There is no denying the fact that the US made Pakistan its coalition partner in war on terror because of its motivated interests and not because of love of Pakistan. The US had ditched Pakistan in 1989 and had befriended India. Over the years, the gap between USA and Pakistan kept widening mainly because of influence of India and Israel. Differences further widened after Pakistan turned nuclear and military dictator took over. Indo-US-Israel nexus formed in mid 1990’s saw nuclear Pakistan with a strong conventional military power and fairly strong technological base a big danger to its future designs and had marked it as a target. With the active blessing of Washington, Indian and Israeli jets had on few occasions come close to destroying Kahuta plant.

Therefore to say that there was a sudden change of heart after 9/11 is absurd. Pakistan was never regarded a friend by USA and will never consider it in future as well. It has been hiring Pakistan to serve its short-term interests and rudely pushing it aside after its objectives were accomplished. A stage has been set for another boorish break-up. The only difference is that in all previous marriages of convenience, Pakistan was not the target; this time it is the target.

The Indo-US-Israeli nexus duly joined by UK and Germany had made up their minds to make judicious use of Afghan soil for denuclearizing and Balkanizing Pakistan and making it a satellite of India through covert means. Well-sounding phrases like ‘making amends for past mistakes; and ‘lasting relations’ were gimmicks to dupe Pakistan and after lulling the senses of its leadership and disabling the nukes, striking it from within at an opportune time. India also embarked upon similar strategy to befool Pakistani leaders that it would resolve all core issues including Kashmir. In reality, it wanted to make Pakistan forget about Kashmir and accept its hegemony. While our adversaries on the quiet kept weaving the web around Pakistan, our myopic leaders lured by aid flow kept praising them and calling them their sincere friends.

In its honeymoon with the US, Pakistanis got the first jolt when George W. Bush administration struck highly controversial Indo-US civilian nuclear deal in March 2006 and didn’t give the same to Pakistan. The US went out of the way to build India’s military power and its nuclear strength without caring for the regional military imbalance. Its visible tilt towards India became a cause of concern for Pakistan, particularly when the US ignored Pakistan’s defence needs and counter terror equipment and even made its aid conditional to its performance against terrorists.

The warmth in Pak-US military and intelligence agencies relations started getting diluted after Pakistan was blamed for the terrorist attack on Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008. The US tilt towards India was again seen in the aftermath of Mumbai attacks when Indian military became highly belligerent. Since Mumbai drama backfired, India’s design to put its Cold Start doctrine to test in Sindh and South of Sutlej couldn’t materialize. Indo-US objective of getting ISI declared as a rogue outfit and to declare Pakistan’s nuclear program as unsafe boomeranged.

The US became more demanding and aggressive in 2009 after Barack Obama replaced George Bush and formulated Pakistan focused Af-Pak policy. It was designed to make Durand Line redundant and to allow ISAF to operate inside FATA freely. On several occasions Obama hurled threats that the US forces would hit a target in FATA unilaterally whenever actionable intelligence came their way. When Gen Kayani put his foot down, Obama reacted by intensifying use of drones in FATA. He also demanded firmer action by Pak Army against the militants. ‘Do more mantra’ and vilification campaign against the Army, ISI and nuclear program gathered pace. Pakistan became the convenient target to fire upon by all and sundry. Governed by its policy of appeasement, Pakistan kept offering its second cheek to the domineering bully.

In 2010, some strains occurred in Pak-US military relations. The reason behind it was continuously deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. Two troop surges had failed to control the rising power of Taliban. Casualty rate of ISAF had increased substantially. Apart from reverses in Afghanistan, another worrying matter for schemers was that Pakistan Army’s image had shot up and it had disarrayed the TTP. The conspirators were extremely unhappy to see Pak Army successfully coming out of the well laid out ambushes in Swat and South Waziristan (SW). Separatist movement in Balochistan backed by foreign agencies was also going nowhere and its top leadership was in exile. Not knowing how to explain its failures, the US military in Afghanistan in conjunction with Karzai administration enhanced their trend of leveling unfounded and baseless allegations against Pakistan, its Army and ISI, and blamed them for whatever went wrong in Afghanistan. This unholy practice of blame-going is still continuing.

Failing to arrest the down slide in Afghanistan and to weaken Pak Army and Pakistan’s nuclear program, the US devised another scheme in the form of Kerry-Lugar aid bill, which was aimed at cutting Pak Army and ISI to size and allowing CIA network to reach up to our nuclear arsenal and missile sites. This move ran into snags because the Army smelt the rat and raised serious objections. When Pak Army couldn’t be ensnared in the laid out traps of Swat and SW, Pentagon and CIA hatched another plan to trap and defame Pak Army by pushing it into the cauldron of North Waziristan (NW). Gen Petraeus pronounced NW as the major cause of ISAF’s reverses in Afghanistan and claimed that bulk of terrorism was flowing into Afghanistan from NW. Successive postponement of planned operation in Kandahar was attributed to safe havens in NW. Desperate to bog down another Corps size force and thus drastically reduce Pak Army’s operational effectiveness, Pakistan was pressed to launch a major operation in NW similar to Rah-e-Rast and Rah-e-Nijat and eliminate safe havens of al-Qaeda and anti-US militants. Pakistan’s reluctance to open another front when Swat and SW had not been fully stabilized was not well received in Pentagon and in Langley, which had its effect on civilian power centres in Capitol Hill as well.

The dawn of 2011 further strained Pak-US relations when Raymond Davis was arrested on 27 January after he murdered two motorcyclists in Lahore and was put in Kot Lakhpat jail. Preliminary investigations revealed that pretending to be a diplomat, he was CIA contractor and in connivance with CIA Station Officer in Islamabad Jonathan Bank, he had been playing a major role in destabilizing Pakistan. Although he was released on 16 March after the US agreed to pay blood money to the next of kin of the deceased, the US feeling insulted never forgave Pakistan. It felt more offended when ISI started pushing out under cover agents of CIA and also monitoring the activities of US diplomats.

Gen Pasha during his meeting with CIA Director in Langley insisted that full details of CIA agents and the US Special Forces personnel based in Pakistan under different guises to be provided and repatriated at the earliest. When Panetta refused to oblige, Pasha had to abruptly call off the meeting and fly back, which further angered CIA. In retaliation, not only spate of drones increased, Operation ‘Get Geronimo’ was hatched to teach a lesson to ISI and Pak Army. Stealth assault in Abbottabad was launched on 2 May with multiple objectives, but the main purpose was to discredit the Army, ISI and PAF in the eyes of the public and getting rid of the two eyesores – Gen Kayani and Gen Pasha.

When the defenders of Pakistan – COAS and DGISI – survived the western-local media cum PML-N politicians’ debilitating onslaught and civil-military relations remained cordial, the US refused to reduce terms of engagement in war on terror and intelligence sharing in writing, turned down the calls to vacate Shamsi airbase and to terminate drone war as was envisaged in 14 May joint resolution of the parliament. Instead of attending to Pakistan’s concerns, the US played upon the theme that some elements within Pak Army and ISI had facilitated Bin Laden’s stay in Abbottabad. It then invented another story that Haqqani network (HN) based in NW was involved in cross border terrorism and its safe havens must be liquidated. HN was demonized and pressure on Pakistan was further stepped up. Pakistan’s continued refusal to mount an operation in NW, saying that with its hands already full, it could ill afford to activate a new battlefront became a major irritant.

Fearing that the US may block military and economic assistance to Pak Army, Gen Pasha undertook whirlwind tours of China and some Arab countries in May to solicit financial assistance. He availed the opportunity to apprise his hosts that ISI and Army had no knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad and that Pakistan was stabbed in the back by its ally. He received a favorable response from all quarters. To suggest that he had gone there to seek assistance of Arabs to topple the sitting government is ridiculous.

Once GHQ decides to bring down the ruling regime, it will neither inform any other country nor would need external assistance. All the four Generals who forcibly grabbed power did so without outside assistance.
After series of attacks on US-NATO targets by Taliban in Eastern Afghanistan in July-September 2011 including attacks on US Embassy and NATO HQ on 13 September, which blew apart tall claims of US military that lot of progress had been made, the US military lost its cool when Burhanuddin Rabbani was murdered on 20 September. Admiral Mullen went crackers and started hitting the roof on 22 September. He didn’t mince his words in directly accusing ISI’s linkage with HN claiming that it was the ‘veritable arm’ of ISI. Demand for eliminating sanctuaries of HN in NW became vociferous but Pakistan continued to resist.

Revelation of memo directed against the very independence of Pakistan by Mansoor Ijaz on 22 October was yet another conspiracy to sever civil-military relations and to tempt Gen Kayani to launch a coup against the government. Mansoor is not a friend of Pakistan. Reportedly, he is connected with CIA, MI6 and RAW. He was the carrier of the memo but leaked the story five months and 12 days after it was drafted and handed over to Admiral Mullen. Memogate scandal has given rise to an assumption that President Zardari, our Ambassador in Washington Hussein Haqqani (now sacked) and our High Commissioner in London Wajidul Shams knew about the 2 May attack and when the operation failed to fetch the desired objectives, the memo was drafted at the behest of Zardari and delivered to Mullen through Jim Jones on 10 May.

While the purpose of USA was to inflict harm to Pakistan, it is a different matter that the memo affair came as a blessing in disguise. It helped in exposing America’s chosen man Haqqani and getting rid of him. His absence from Washington in the ongoing difficult days is acutely felt by his patrons in Washington. They are apprehensive that he might divulge many secrets shared between him and US leadership. Haqqani may prove to be more dangerous than Raymond Davis. Supreme Court is seized with the issue and hopefully it will extract the truth and bring the traitors to justice. Panicked by Supreme Court’s assertiveness, Federal government has taken an irrational stance that memogate scandal should be investigated by the Parliament and not by Supreme Court, not realizing that great majority of elected parliamentarians are corrupt and dishonest.

It was in the backdrop of utter failures of US military, NATO and Karazi regime in Afghanistan on the political, economic, social and military fronts and their repeated failures to earth Pakistan that provoked them to launch an unprovoked attack at Salala. It was an act of sheer frustration and desperation. This latest hostile act has boomeranged in a big way and has impelled our weak-willed leaders to take steps which they should have taken long time back to roll back the US blatant intrusions and making a mockery of Pakistan’s sovereignty. They have dared to take series of measures because the top leadership is caught up in memogate case and shield of NRO has been taken away by the Supreme Court. It is anyone’s guess whether the President recuperating from his stroke will return from Dubai or not. The ruling regime closely associated with USA is standing on a very slippery ground.

The writer is a retired Brig, author of several books and a defence analyst. Email: [email protected]


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Brig Asif Haroon Raja an Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces WarCoursequalified, holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously. He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently. He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready. He is a defence analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defence and political matters for numerous international/national publications.