The NATO attack this morning that martyred 28 of our brave soldiers is a tragedy that should never happen. But it has happened, and as our leaders decide how to respond, we should reflect on what it means for our relationship with the Americans and our security.
Many are obviously going to jump to the conclusion that it was a deliberate attack, and some of our less creative hyper-nationalist brothers are already terming it retaliation for memogate, which makes even less sense than their usual conspiracy theories. I am hard pressed to figure out any plausible goal that the Americans would have for carrying out such an attack, though, so I’m going to pull out my Occam’s Razor and slice off some of the obvious lessons.
The two obvious meanings that I find are not good. First, whether the attack was deliberate or it was not deliberate, it clearly shows a breakdown in communication between our two militaries that are supposed to be working together towards a common goal of rooting out terrorists from the Afghan border.
I’m not talking about communication between Gen Kayani and his American counterpart Gen Martin Dempsey, but the day to day communication between the jawans. If it was not deliberate, if it was a case of both sides not knowing what the other was doing and mistakenly believing that they were threatened until the scene escalated into violence – that is a serious problem.
A more serious problem, however, will be if we discover that the attack was either an unprovoked aggression by the NATO forces or it was a retaliatory strike after taking deliberate fire from our checkpost. This is more serious because it means that more than miscommunication has taken place, rather there is an adversarial position taken by one or both of our countries against the other.
The classic military strategist Sun Tzu wrote, “If he is in superior strength, evade him.” This seems like an obvious strategy – not picking a fight with a bigger and stronger adversary, but I see a lot of people whipping themselves in a nationalist frenzy and saying crazy things about war with America. Let’s not fool ourselves, we’re not going to see American troops lined up on the border and running into Pakistan. Yes, it may be over ten years since the Americans went into Afghanistan and yet still they have not been able to defeat the Taliban, but has the Taliban won either? Sun Tzu also says, “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare”. No, war with Americans will not be some glorious jihad. The Americans will simply lob their cruise missles from thousands of miles away and “bomb us back to the stone age” in a matter of hours. Remember Baghdad in 2003?
Let’s not make that Islamabad in 2011. America might not be able to win a war against Pakistan, but it is we who will suffer more.
That doesn’t mean we should lay down and let the Americans kill us with impunity, either. The PM was correct to condemn the attack in the strongest terms, and have the Foreign Ministry take up the issue with their American counterparts immediately.
Ironically, this is exactly the sort of situation when you want a talented and well-connected Ambassador who can find out what the hell is going. Unfortunately, we pulled ours out of Washington over some TV drama. It’s also unfortunate for the new Ambassador Sherry Rehman whose first order of business when she lands in Washington will be to handle an extremely sensitive issue with people who she is only beginning to form relationships with. It puts her, too, in quite a bad spot. Once again we acted on emotion rather than reason, and now look where its got us.
If the attack was accidental – the result of a communication breakdown – then we need to immediately identify why our two military’s are not communicating and cooperating properly and we need to fix that breakdown immediately.
If it was deliberate – either an unprovoked aggression or a retaliation for a perceived threat – we need to engage at the highest levels to find a solution that addresses the concerns of both sides without escalating violence.
Twenty-eight of our sons were martyred this morning. They pledged to sacrifice their lives for their country, and their sacrifice was paid in their blood. We cannot let this sacrifice be taken in vain by those who will try to exploit it for a political agenda – either one that is intentionally belligerent, or one that makes us look weak. This is the time when a nation requires intelligent and rationale leaders who can find the path this is best not for the country’s “self esteem” but for the security of our future.