Pentagon Report and the Shades of Grey
Momin Iftikhar


“Shades of grey wherever I go
The more that I find the less that I know
Black and white is how it should be
But the shades of grey are the colors I see”

It has taken four and a half years for the truth to emerge - and given the prevalent state of affairs it is no small blessing, yet the emergence of a Pentagon report exonerating Pakistan of any complicity in precipitating the death of a US major at Teri Mangal in 2007, in a shooting incident, is instructive in many ways. It certainly helps in understanding the complexity of Pak-US relations especially in gauging the tone and tenor of the military to military cooperation at the tactical level. Particularly evident is the depth of suspicions harbored in the US diplomatic-military mindset, by default or design, and the manner in which spin doctors in the US media are manipulating their powerful levers of information power to malign and coerce Pakistan.
The lamentable shoot out on May 9, 2007 at Teri Mangal, close to Pak Afghan Border in Kurram Agency that killed US Army Major Larry J. Bauguess was a freak incident in true sense of the word. The Major was part of a group of US and Afghan officers who had come to hold a flag meeting with their Pakistani counterparts to resolve issue related to the alignment of the boundary line in the rugged border terrain; a routine task undertaken by military commanders wherever soldiers face off across any dividing line. By all accounts the meeting went well and the lunch followed. As the visitors took their leave and went on to the awaiting vehicles for a short hop to their helicopters, a lone gunman opened fire at Major Bauguess from close quarters, killing him instantly. This elicited a fusillade of retaliatory fire that not only killed the assassin but resulted into death of six Pushtun civilians as well.
The incident was regrettable and attack on the US troops who had come for a flag meeting in Pakistani territory was a source of acute embarrassment and anguish for their hosts yet the extremely prejudicial and accusatory manner in which the US and Afghan authorities responded to the issue was downright derogatory. Attacks on the US and the other allied officers in Afghanistan by lone gunmen belonging to various segments of Afghan security forces and police are not unheard off and stoically accepted as part of hazards faced by foreign troops in the xenophobic environment of Afghanistan. Yet in case of the Teri Mangal tragedy this buffer of unavoidability was not allowed by the US media who embarked upon a prolonged and vicious campaign to harangue and arm twist Pakistan.
The latest salvo was fired by the New York Times as late as 27 September 2011 when a report titled “Pakistanis tied to 2007 border ambush on Americans”. Coming from the formidable pedestal of the New York Times its repercussions ricocheted across the global media and discussion forums. The accusations were well synchronized; coming at a time when the Pak-US relations were touching unprecedented lows and the Pakistan Army and the ISI had emerged as the target for the US military brass as well as diplomats. Only days earlier Adm Mike Mullen had delivered his unkind cut by saying that Pakistan military and ISI had been manipulating the Taleban networks attacking the US Embassy in Kabul and other key US targets inside Afghanistan.
The New York Times story portrayed the episode as a deliberately planned ambush and published accounts of the incident by US and Afghan Officers implying that the major’s death was caused by a “complex, calculated assault by a nominal ally”. According to Paper’s pernicious write up the “assault involved multiple gunmen, Pakistani intelligence agents and military officers, and an attempt to kidnap or draw away the senior American and Afghan officials”. The motives; retaliate for losses suffered by Pakistan Army in an accidental attack by US forces ; maintain morale among Pakistani troops and to make a point to the Americans that they could not be pushed around. Only the penultimate paragraph of the long and vicious article carried a kernel of truth. “Both Generals Helmly [then Defense Attaché US Embassy Islamabad] and McNeill [Commanding General US Troops at time of incident]accept as plausible that a lone member of the Frontier Corps, whether connected to militants or pressured by them was responsible, but they also said that it was possible that a larger group of soldiers was acting in concert. The two generals said there was no evidence that senior Pakistani officials had planned the attack”; wise and objective words but in this age of short attention span who reads that far?
The facts related to the incident must have been established by the US military within a short time of the occurrence and could have been made public in interest of the much needed bilateral bonhomie. Yet the release of a Pentagon summary related to the incident, which exonerates the Pakistan Army of culpability in the death of Major Bauguess, even though it comes after four years long period of waiting and much mudslinging by the US media organs, is a fortuitous development. It strongly underscores how powerful elements of US media, without independent inquiry and objective reporting are vitiating the obtaining environment by resorting to negative reporting and joining efforts by the US establishment to browbeat Pakistan into abject submission. The manipulative hand of the US establishment is also discernible in the thrusts of the propaganda war waged against Pakistan in the context of the US travails in Afghanistan. It also is indicative of the vulnerability of the third world countries, like Pakistan, to the power of information at command of the advanced nations who can manipulate any event to their advantage by turning the white of a truth into varying shades of grey to suit their ends.