Gen. Kayani finds himself in a very unenviable position.
There is palpable anger in the streets of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi over U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops last Saturday, forcing the most powerful man in Pakistan, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, to swing into damage control mode. Pakistan’s first haphazard response to the attacks involved closing NATO supply lines and demanding that the U.S. vacate Shamsi airbase (allegedly used to conduct drone strikes in K-P). It followed this up by withdrawing itself from participating in the Bonn conference on Afghanistan. Then there was a vague attempt to block the BBC and other “Western channels” from broadcasting in Pakistan — a strange threat at best, and one that is unlikely to hurt anyone, except possibly, listeners of the BBC in Pakistan.
Today, Gen Kayani apparently “upped the ante” by declaring that his troops would respond with “full force” to any future aggression by NATO or the U.S.:
“Be assured that we will not let the aggressor walk away easily,” the army chief said in a message for the troops and added that he had “clearly directed that any act of aggression will be responded with full force, regardless of the cost and consequences”.
He believed that the attack could have been retaliated effectively had the communications network not broken down. “Timely decision could not be taken due to breakdown of communication with the affected posts and therefore lack of clarity of situation at various levels, including corps HQ and GHQ.”
Gen Kayani further clarified that the troops could respond on their own, when attacked, without waiting for orders from the command. “I have full trust in your capabilities and resolve,” he stressed. [Dawn]
But this is all meaningless rhetoric for several reasons. First, Pakistan is not the victim that is claiming to be, but in fact the aggressor. It has been reliably reported that it was Pakistan, not the U.S., that fired first, presumably in an attempt to aid the Taliban, which had come under siege from U.S. Special Forces. This, of course, is not a new occurrence. The Long War Journal catalogs at least eight occasions of unprovoked cross-border shelling by Pakistani troops in Mohmand Agency since September 2011.
Second, if the Pakistanis could have hit back at NATO or U.S. forces, they would have. The fact that they didn’t indicates that they couldn’t. Upon being initially challenged by the Pakistanis, U.S. Special Forces called in close air support from NATO, which proceeded to decimate the aggressors. This is not an issue of a breakdown in communication between corps HQ and GHQ. When you’re under attack and taking casualties, you don’t need “permission” from your Chief of Army Staff to defend yourself.
Third, bravado notwithstanding, how can the Pakistani army realistically “respond with full force, regardless of the cost or consequences?” Does Gen. Kayani not expect the U.S. to respond in kind to Pakistani military action? Is Pakistan really that stupid to get into a fight with the U.S. or NATO and trigger an uncontrollable chain of events?
The truth of the matter is that the proverbial noose around the neck of the current Chief of Army Staff is tightening since the humiliation of the Abbottabad raid in May. Pakistan’s inability to respond to the recent “act of aggression” puts Gen. Kayani in a very unenviable position. And the more that noose tightens, the more erratic Gen. Kayani’s actions will get. There are already many Yahyas in Rawalpindi to Kayani’s Ayub. And as a restless nation bays for blood, Kayani will seek to placate them with bellicose rhetoric that will ultimately fool no one.
Given the rather delicate situation that he finds himself in, Gen. Kayani in actuality should be praying for zero confrontation with NATO or U.S. forces in the short-term, rather than welcoming it. For should he find himself in a Salala-like situation in the near future, he might find that the cost of backing down from another military confrontation with the U.S. outweighs its apparent benefits.