Revisited Salala attack
ON November 26, 2011, the US-led NATO forces attacked two Pakistani check-posts on Pak-Afghan border and martyred 24 Pakistani military personnel indiscriminately. In this regard, two American Apache helicopters and two F-15 Eagle fighter jets targeted the two Pakistani posts, Boulder and Volcano, situated at Salala in the Baizai tehsil of Mohmand Agency. Notably, the aerial attack was coordinated and deliberate, its second phase carried out by American forces after the Pakistan Army informed the ISAF command that their forces were attacking Pakistani troops — and despite this information, it continued. In this context, a NATO inquiry said that both sides had made mistakes. Pakistan categorically rejected the inquiry report. It had earlier refused to be part of a joint inquiry. Top Pakistan Army officials denied the attack was unintentional. Reacting to the Salala attack, Pakistan blocked the NATO ground lines of communication to Afghanistan and demanded an apology before the supply line would be unblocked.
Pakistan’s Parliament unanimously approved recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) in connection with the re-engagement with the United States. Besides other matters, the recommendations included an immediate cessation of drone attacks and infiltration into Pakistani territory, entailing some conditions regarding supply to NATO forces in Afghanistan across the country. Besides, Pakistan should seek an unconditional apology from the US for November 26, 2011 unprovoked Salala check-posts assault. Setting aside the American pressure, civil and military leaders reiterated that Parliament in light of the PCNS recommendations and the Defence Committee of Cabinet would decide on the issue of NATO supply, after negotiating new relationship with the US, based upon equality and non-violation of Pakistani territory.
When Pakistan government remained stern on its stand by keeping the NATO supply lines suspended for the six months in the wake of US pressure tactics, on May 10, 2012, the United States House Armed Services Committee approved a Bill that would prohibit the preferential procurement of goods or services from Pakistan until the “NATO supply lines are reopened.” Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested on May 11, 2012 that Pakistan could miss out on important talks on the future of Afghanistan, if it failed to reopen supply routes in time to secure a place at a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21, 2012. On the other side, Prime Minister Gilani confirmed that the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, would debate as to how to repair relations with America in time to attend the NATO summit in Chicago or to boycott it.
In these terms, Pak-US war of nerves accelerated due to American coercive diplomacy towards Islamabad coupled with its double game. In this regard, after the 9/11 tragedy, Pakistan joined the US war against terrorism as frontline state and Islamabad was granted the status of non-NATO ally by Washington because of its earlier successes achieved by Pakistan’s Army and country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) against the Al-Qaeda militants. Within a few years, when the US-led NATO forces felt that they were failing in coping with the stiff resistance of the Taliban in Afghanistan, they started false allegations against Pak Army and ISI of supporting the Afghan Taliban. US high officials and their media not only blamed Pakistan for cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan, but also continuously emphasized to ‘do more’ against the insurgents in tribal areas by ignoring the internal backlash in the country such as bomb blasts and suicide attacks which killed thousands of innocent people and security personnel.
Cold war had already started between Pakistan and the United States when hundreds of CIA agents entered Pakistan under the guise of diplomats to destabilize the country. On January 11, 2011, Raymond Davis who was CIA agent killed two Pakistanis in Lahore. Since May 2, 2011, Pak-US relations further deteriorated when without informing Islamabad, US commandos killed Usama Bin Laden in a covert military operation in the wake of CIA-operated drone attacks. Differences also increased between Islamabad and Washington, because Pakistan’s superior agency, ISI interrupted covert activities of the American so-called diplomats. Notably, ISI thwarted the anti-Pakistan activities of the agents of Blackwater and CIA which had started recruiting Pakistani nationals who were vulnerable. On the information of this top spy agency, Pakistan’s establishment expelled several American spies operating in the country. On the other side, US withheld $800 million in military aid to punish its army and ISI.
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the November 26 incident in Mohmand Agency, Pakistan’s bold steps such as vacation of the Shamsi Airbase, boycott the second Bonn Conference and rejection of the US investigation report regarding the deliberate attack on Salala Army check-posts accelerated tension between Islamabad and Washington. It is mentionable that confused in their goals, sometimes US high officials praised Pak sacrifices regarding war on terror and sometimes, they blamed Islamabad for safe-havens of militants in the country. While in connivance with India and Israel, America has been continuing its anti-Pakistan activities by supporting militancy in Pakistan and separatism in Balochistan. Nonetheless, after the Salala incident, Pak-US war of nerves continued, it took the relationship of both the countries to the point of no return. On July 3, 2012, Defence Committee of the Cabinet permitted NATO supplies across the country to Afghanistan after the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011 by American air strike on Slalala check posts by saying “sorry”.