This is going to get even uglier.
According to the UK’s Guardian, Western officials have stated that the NATO air attack that allegedly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers was an act of self-defense. Some very interesting comments from that story:
…a more troubling explanation would be that insurgents in the area were operating under the nose of Pakistani security forces. Many Afghan officials believe Pakistan helps the Taliban with cross-border operations.
Edrees Momand of the Afghan Border Police said that a US-Afghan force in the area near the Pakistani outposts detained several militants on Saturday morning.
“I am not aware of the casualties on the other side of the border but those we have detained aren’t Afghan Taliban,” he said, implying they may have been Pakistani or other foreign national Taliban operating in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s consistent inconsistency has been a problem. The US has long suspected Pakistan of playing both ends against the middle as a US “ally” in the War on Terror. Its Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI, and its military, are a virtual stadt im stadt, and have aided Taliban and Al Qaeda efforts in Afghanistan for an entire decade. They have been linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, and to the attack on the US Embassy in Kabul in September of this year. CJCS Admiral Mullen called the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of ISI. It is highly probable that Usama bin Laden had been under the protection of Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus since being whisked from Tora Bora in the last days of 2001, safely tucked away for most of that time in his Abottabad compound not two miles from Pakistan’s Military Academy.
It seems very unlikely that the air strikes that allegedly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers were authorized without a US terminal controller with eyes on the targets, and without those targets actively engaging US and Afghan forces along the border area. US commanders understand the sensitivity of the Pakistan problem along the poorly-defined Afghan border, and the restrictive (many say overly restrictive) ROE for CAS make the chance that the strikes were a colossal error by NATO forces a rather low probability. If such was the case, we will know soon enough. It seems extremely unlikely, however, that any Western officials would talk about such events as self-defense unless the picture of what happened was sufficiently clear to merit such a comment.
Pakistan’s version of events, that the Pakistani outposts were defending themselves from attack (“unprovoked and indiscriminate firing” by US aircraft), might hold more water without the deep US suspicions of ISI support to the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, or the rather implausible denials of hiding and protecting Usama bin Laden, and the categorical disavowing of involvement in the Mumbai attacks and the day-long assault on the US Embassy and other targets in Kabul.
Pakistan’s strategic location, and its substantial nuclear arsenal, make its fate an important consideration to the US. Its demand of evacuation of the air base at Shamsi, and the temporary closing of the border crossings, will be inconvenient but not crippling to ISAF efforts in Afghanistan. How long Pakistan remains a vital “ally” is open to question, as is the limit of US patience with the Zardari government, and its seeming lack of control over its Military Intelligence organization.
As the facts from this incident emerge, we will likely see more evidence of Pakistan’s aid and support to Taliban and Al Qaeda inside Afghanistan. And likely, more vehement denials on the part of the Pakistani government regarding provision of aid and support to US enemies in Afghanistan.
Whether they are any more believable than those of recent vintage remains to be seen.
It seems Pakistan no longer wishes “business as usual” with the United States. I do hope that includes eliminating the nearly $3 billion in US aid that can be put toward the US budget crisis instead of sending it as foreign aid to an “ally” who provides material support to America’s enemies and harbors terrorists. Perhaps the Pakistani Military may find itself in a different “transactional relationship” vis a vis the United States. The flow of military hardware may arrive business-end first.