Russia sends troops to Moscow after protests

Russia sends troops to Moscow after protests

Riot policemen detain an opposition supporter during a rally in central Moscow on December 5, 2011. (AFP photo/Andrey Smirnov)

Riot policemen detain an opposition supporter during a rally in central Moscow on December 5, 2011. (AFP photo/Andrey Smirnov)

MOSCOW – Russia deployed troops in central Moscow and held opposition figures on Tuesday after an unprecedented protest against polls that critics said were rigged in favour of Vladimir Putin’s party.

Several thousand people took to the streets in the capital late Monday despite freezing rain for a rally against the results of Sunday’s elections in which Putin’s United Russia party won but with a sharply reduced majority.

After the protest, the interior ministry sent troops into Moscow and increased the alert level of security forces in an apparent bid to ensure order was preserved amid warnings of more demonstrations.

“They (the troops) have just one aim — to ensure the security of the citizens,” interior ministry forces spokesman Colonel Vasily Panchenkov told the Interfax news agency. A police spokesman said the security forces were now on a “heightened regime” of alert.

Throughout the morning, Russian bloggers posted videos and claimed they saw columns of armoured vans carrying the troops heading down the main avenues into the city. Their numbers were not immediately clear.

Police said they arrested 300 people including prominent activist Ilya Yashin and opposition blogger Alexei Navalny in the protest Monday when participants headed towards the Lubyanka Square that houses the feared FSB security service.

Around 250 were still detained by Tuesday afternoon, Olga Shorina, spokeswoman for Solidarnost (Solidarity) movement that organised the protest, told AFP. Many now face 15 days of arrest, she said.

During the rally — called mostly through social networks whose use has boomed in Russia in recent years — protesters chanted “Russia without Putin” and “Putin should be in prison.”

Navalny has won a huge following on the Internet for exposing corruption at state-owned firms and he coined the phrase, which has now been taken up by all the opposition, “swindlers and thieves” to describe United Russia.

It was the largest protest in many years and a boost for Russia’s embattled opposition which traditionally struggles to mobilise protests in a country which has lost its taste for street politics in the turbulent 90s.

Putin suffered his worst ever setback at the ballot box on Sunday as United Russia’s majority in the State Duma was sharply reduced.

The opposition claimed the results would have been even more dramatic in clean elections.

Vladislav Surkov, first deputy head of the Kremlin administration described as the architect of Russia’s current political system, admitted the country required reform to ensure its future stability.

“The period of sanitising and revitalising a political system that decomposed in the 90s is over,” he said in comments to writer Sergei Minayev and posted on LiveJournal, one of Russia’s most popular blogging sites, Monday night.

“An open system is more turbulent but also more stable no matter how paradoxical this is. And we are in favour of stability, right?”

United Russia obtained 238 seats in the 450-seat State Duma in Sunday’s polls, down sharply from the 315 seats it won in the last polls in 2007.

It polled less than 50 percent of the vote, down from over 64 percent in 2007, which translates into the loss of 13 million votes, according to estimates.

Monitors led by the OSCE said the polls were slanted in favour of United Russia and marred by “frequent procedural violations” including ballot stuffing. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised “serious concerns”.

Along with United Russia, three other usually pliant opposition parties won seats in the State Duma, including the Communists. However liberal party Yabloko failed to win sufficient votes for seats and another anti-Kremlin force, the Parnas party, was not even registered for the vote.

United Russia’s biggest opposition will be the Communist Party with 92 seats. It was followed by the A Just Russia party with 64 seats and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party with 56 mandates. Turnout was just over 60 percent.

The opposition said that the authorities had used unprecedented dirty tricks to keep the ruling party’s dominance in the State Duma despite falling support.

The website of the independent monitor group Golos, which exposed violations in the campaign, was down after a week of harassing of its leaders by the authorities.

Scores killed in Afghan holy day bombings

Scores killed in Afghan holy day bombings

Ben Doherty

Devastation ... this picture was taken seconds after the suicide blast in Kabul.

Devastation … people flee the scene, as seen in this image taken seconds after the suicide blast in Kabul. Photo: Reuters

AFGHANISTAN’S Shiite Muslim minority has been targeted in rare sectarian attacks that killed at least 58 people yesterday.

The first bombing, a suicide blast at the gates to the Abu Fazl Shrine in Kabul’s old city, killed at least 54 people, including women and children, who had gathered to mark the religious holiday of Ashura. A second device, hidden in a bicycle and detonated near a mosque in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, killed four people.

Pilgrims were observing the holy day of Ashura, which marks the death of the grandson of the prophet Muhammad. Under the Taliban, Shiites were banned from commemorating Ashura in public, and its observance by the minority is a source of tension between Sunnis and Shiites. But Afghanistan has largely been spared the sectarian violence that has plagued Pakistan.

A third bomb, which was detonated in a motorcycle in the restive southern city of Kandahar, injured six people. But this attack was not near a mosque and is not believed to be linked to Ashura.

The bombs come just a day after the President, Hamid Karzai, warned an international conference in Germany that the Taliban could take over Afghanistan again. He also called for foreign assistance for a decade after international troops are due to withdraw in 2014.

Pakistan and the Taliban – both seen as pivotal to any end to the bloody strife in Afghanistan – boycotted the talks, undermining already modest hopes for real progress.

Early reports suggested people at the gates to the Abu Fazl Shrine were packed shoulder-to-shoulder as hundreds gathered for the commemorations. Local media quoted a police official as saying the suspected bomber was seen with a backpack. ”Fifty-four are dead and 150 others are injured,” a Health Ministry spokesman, Ghulam Sakhi Kargar Noorughli said.

A young girl, dressed in a green shalwar kameez smeared with blood, stood shrieking as she was surrounded by the crumpled, piled-up bodies of children.

”I was there watching people mourning [for Ashura] when there was suddenly a huge explosion,” witness Ahmad Fawad said. ”Some people around me fell down injured. I wasn’t hurt, so I got up and started running. It was horrible.”

Men and women sobbed as they surveyed the carnage and screamed slogans denouncing al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

There was no claim of responsibility for any of the blasts.

Roads across the capital were sealed off as security forces feared secondary blasts.

A security official speaking on condition of anonymity said it was believed the bomber had arrived with a group of Shiite pilgrims from Logar province, south of Kabul.

Ashura marks the slaughter of Imam Hussein near Karbala by armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD. Tradition holds the revered imam was decapitated and his body mutilated. His death was a formative event in Shiite Islam.

In Lebanon, the Hezbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah, used the Ashura commemoration to make his first public appearance since 2008, appearing before a frenzied crowd in his southern Beirut stronghold. He spoke to the crowd of thousands for only a few minutes before being whisked away by bodyguards.

with Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

 

The Inscrutable Mr. Berdimuhamedov

Transcaspian question

 

Catherine Fitzpatrick

With the turn of relations to China, the discovery of additional reserves of gas and a doubling of gas supply for Beijing Berdimuhamedov do not feel obligated to listen to the comments of the West on human rights.

In the past month, while in Beijing, PresidentGurbanguly Berdimuhamedov one sweeping gesture doubled the volume of gas supplies to China, bringing to 65 billion cubic meters per year, has undermined the plans of Russia, which led to China in talks to sell gas at higher prices, and tacitly accepted China’s veto on the Trans-Caspian pipeline (to avoid claims of price-fixing European level) – while still making the European Union to wait for the conclusion of the energy agreement. In Beijing, the Turkmen leader has signed several agreements, including an agreement on the allocation of funding for the training of Turkmen police in China, which will improve the safety of pipelines and the need to strengthen law enforcement in Turkmenistan (possibly to control the masses?)

Berdimuhamedov made the trip after years of trying to pit the U.S., EU, Russia and China to their advantage, and after several weeks of bland, but nesoderzhatelnyh negotiations with the European Union on the Trans-Caspian pipeline (TCP). Prior to this visit were some attempts to improve relations with Russia, but ultimately negative reaction to the possibility of laying the Kremlin TKT has provoked the most stringent to date language in verbal battles of the Caspian resources.

The question of whether Russia really declare war on the Caspian Sea because of the pipeline, which threatens its dominance has a downside: I would go to war the European Union because of some 10-30 billion cubic meters? As reported, told “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” Russian analyst and director of the National Energy Security Fund , Konstantin Simonov , the West has not taken a trans-Caspian pipeline laying for 15 years because he is not ready to give Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan guarantees that protect them from Russia. And from a political point of view, the EU has no special leverage, in addition to threats to refuse to cooperate in the pipeline “South Stream”, which were used by the EU Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger .

As noted in the article «EurasiaNet», senior analyst at Oil & Gas FC “Uralsib” Alexei Kokinsaid that the Russian gas monopoly “Gazprom” with anxiety responded to an agreement between Turkmenistan and China, because it “undermines its position in negotiations with China.” But it is not clear, will not do a production of gas pipelines and filling them to China more expensive than it is now assumed as the Russian energy experts warn, and if he does not have to pay the higher price of Russia due to the fact that it does not invest in Russia infrastructure, in contrast to the Turkmen.

There is in this bargaining is another aspect that shows Dr. Robert M. Cutler, in the edition of Asia Times. According to the Russian newspaper “Kommersant”, citing an unnamed Chinese diplomat, Beijing will do its utmost to prevent the realization of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, as China does not want to Turkmenistan used European price for gas in order to achieve greater purchasing prices from China. EU, as the United States hopes that China will help cover the debt, and therefore it will be difficult to resist China’s use of deliberate tactic to undermine the TCP.

Any conflict in the Caspian Sea, which Russia could trigger or worsen, should be considered in the context of how it will engage its other allies, respectively, and the Russian-Turkmen dispute should not be considered in isolation. Iran is an ally of Russia in opposing the bilateral projects in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan and independently resolve their territorial disputes, as well as insisting on a five-sided section of Caspian resources without regard to national boundaries. For various reasons, more recently, Russia has reduced the pressure on Iran, which is its longtime ally on the issue of nuclear power, to be lifted within the UN.And now Russia is defiantly joined Kazakhstan, which is opposed to TCP, calling it “vague,” a transaction which allegedly violates the separation of the legal regime of Caspian resources. And even if you manage to convince Ashgabat to Beijing that it will not change the price of gas to China, if they will be higher for the EU or any other customers, China is likely to be reluctant to let the EU to the Caspian Sea to save more room for themselves.

Experience shows that in case of disagreements with other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia can use methods such as suspension of gas supplies (as it did with Ukraine), the threat of migrant workers (as with Tajikistan) or provocation of violent conflict, as was done in the of Georgia. But what can she do to Turkmenistan?KamAZ or stop the flow of the newspaper “Kommersant”? On the other hand Turkmenistan theoretically may increase pressure on the Russian-speaking minority, as was done in the era of the late dictator Saparmurat Niyazov , but Russia is now apparently not particularly concerned about the protection of its current and former citizens soon, the Turkmen authorities are forced to renounce Russian passports . In 1990, when Niyazov refused to enter into an agreement with the Kremlin, thousands of Russians, including heads of oil companies, left Turkmenistan, and Russian in the country was much smaller.Moreover, there is evidence that the authorities continue to rely on Russian specialists, who studied in Soviet times, because only now training over the first generation of young of Petroleum Engineers (which, incidentally, received his education mainly in Russia).

Iran has a large Azeri minority lives, and when there was disagreement with Baku in connection with the possibility of signing an agreement with Azerbaijan Energy Turkey, as well as laying the TCP, the Iranian authorities began to threaten the Azerbaijanis living in the country. Russia has also tied the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to conclude energy deals with Baku. Thus, with Russia and Iran may well ruin the lives of severely Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan – but with respect to Iran’s threat is higher, although in general, all the littoral states, independent of each other to maintain the trade and security, there are good reasons not to escalate the conflict.

One thing is clear: with the rotation of relations to China, the discovery of additional reserves of gas and a doubling of gas supply for Beijing Berdimuhamedov do not feel obligated to listen to the comments of the West on human rights. In the past, after a visit to France, he spoke of a second party, in addition to so unsuccessfully called the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan in the past he has met with various representatives of the EU and the United States and discussed the continuation of democratic reforms, and now he can afford to ignore direct questions about democratic elections, he asked the Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) , Lamberto Zannerom .

As told Nurmukhammed Khanamov , chairman of the Republican Party of Turkmenistan in exile, during a private conversation Zanner raised the issue of participation of the exiles in the presidential elections scheduled for February 2012, and recalled that in July this year the opposition was made ​​an invitation to participate. According Hanamova, later assistant Zannera told him that Berdymukhamedov simply ignored the issue, leaving it unanswered.”Pressure” – this is not a word that could describe the position you in the EU and the U.S. on human rights in Turkmenistan: OSCE Secretary General was in Ashgabat, mainly, to accept to participate in the conference “Oil and Gas” and to raise issue of energy security, as do other recent Western visitors, including German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Source:: EurasiaNet

India to open military hospital in Tajikistan

India to open military hospital in Tajikistan

, TNN

NEW DELHI: When Ahmed Shah Masood, the legendary Northern Alliance leader who foughtTaliban in Afghanistan, was mortally wounded in a terrorist attack on September 9, 2001, it was to a hospital run by India in Tajikistan that he was rushed to. An Indian Army doctor declared him dead, just two days before the terrorist strike of 9/11 in the US.

In what many say was a strategic blunder, New Delhi later closed down the hospital at the Farkhor Airbase, losing its strategic presence so close to Afghanistan. The move was all the more baffling given the chaos and confusion in Afghanistan and jockeying by various foreign powers in the post-9/11 world.

The government, sources said, has now decided to go back to Tajikistan and open a military hospital. The original proposal to revive its presence in Tajikistan was taken a year back, but the defence ministry sat on it. With prodding from the security establishment, sources said efforts are now underway to open a field hospital before winter sets in. At a high level meeting a few days ago, the government decided to speed up the plan, a senior source said.

Sources said an Army team has already completed reconnaissance in Tajikistan and has identified a location outside Dushanbe, the capital city. Army has also identified personnel from its medical corps to set up a 20-bed field hospital. “They are ready to leave on a short notice,” the source said.

“The proposal (to open hospital) was first mooted when the Army chief (Gen V K Singh) visited Tajikistan last year. But the entire proposal has been pending with the MoD for a year now,” a senior source in the security establishment told TOI. The hospital would cater to both civilians and Tajik military, he said. The Tajik Army has for long been engaged in fighting a bloody insurgency. “So, our hospital would be of great assistance to the Tajik Army,” the source said.

Meanwhile, the security establishment is also witnessing discussions about further intensifying India’s security engagement with Tajikistan, which shares a 1,400-km border with Afghanistan. A strong section in the security establishment would like to extend the runway at Farkhor airbase and stage air force assets there.

India has never deployed its air force assets outside its territory, except in UN operations and as part of Indian Peace Keeping Force operations in Sri Lanka in the late 80s. Maintenance of air assets abroad is a logistically complex issue needing huge number of technicians and regular spare-parts supply. So the suggestion is to base either Russian-made helicopters or Russian fighters there and then invite the Russians to maintain them. However, the air force for now is reluctant to move its assets so far out, sources said.

The decision to open a military field hospital and discussions to base air assets in Tajikistan comes even as the deadline for US withdrawal from Afghanistan draws closer. By this year-end, US would withdraw 10,000 troops and by 2014 they would have completed the withdrawal. The US troop withdrawal could be followed by further chaos in Afghanistan and a desperate scramble by Pakistan to establish strategic depth in the country. In such a tense atmosphere, presence in Tajikistan would give a firmer presence for India in the strategically crucial region, and a better view of Afghanistan, sources said.

Russian Rapid Reaction Snipers Practice Targeting Militant Groups In Mountainous Terrain

[SEE:  Two hundred and first Russian Forces in Tajikistan Develop Rapid Reaction Forces]

Russian snipers in Tajikistan learn to fight in mountainous terrain

Nargis Hamrabaeva

Snipers of the 201st Russian military base stationed in Tajikistan, undergoing mountain training.

Classes began on the plan of educational and methodical gathering in landfills “Lyaur”, “Momirak” and “Sambuli” so you can work out the theory and practice of action on different landscapes – the seizure of commanding heights, the most profitable routes, passes, and resistance to simulated enemy snipers, said the officer Press Service of the Central Military District Captain Dmitri Matushkin.

According to him, the collection will undergo training on the classification of targets and adjust fire, consolidate skills to determine the distance to the target, the production of ballistic correction calculations of daytime and night observation devices and sighting. The most prestigious exercise will be the destruction of educational goals for the maximum possible distance. Collection will run until December 24.

Particular attention is paid instructors tactic of firing small groups, consisting of grenade throwers. Snipers firing will fulfill under the guise of sound grenade launcher rounds of shelters and equipped with the natural folds of the terrain.

In June 2012, the snipers of the 201st RMB will take part in a special anti-terrorist operation on release and cleaning of the village in the mountains of Tajikistan. The operation will take place in a joint anti-terrorist command and staff exercise of the armed forces of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization “Peace Mission-2012”. Issues will be worked out of troops (forces) of the SCO member states in dealing with crisis situations, the neutralization of terrorist groups.

US Pushing To Create Rapid-Reaction Diplomat Crisis Intervention Force

Representatives with OSCE, including OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis (left), meet with Col. Pamirbek Asanov, chief of police in Osh, in March 2011. Some, though not all, OSCE members hope to create a rapid reaction unit that would act in conflicts like the one that took place in Osh in 2010. (Photo: OSCE)

US and European Union diplomats will be looking to reinvigorate the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe when a Ministerial Council meeting convenes in Vilnius, Lithuania, on December 6-7. High on the meeting agenda is a proposal to create a diplomatic rapid reaction team.

During the past few years the OSCE has seen its reputation as Europe’s foremost democratization organization slip significantly. A sub-grouping of member states, at the center of which is Russia, has pushed toneutralize the OSCE’s human rights and election monitoring capabilities. The OSCE also has been exposed as ineffectual as a vehicle for conflict resolution, underscored by its tentative performance in response to Kyrgyzstan’s social upheaval in 2010, as well as by the stalemated Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.

The organization is likely to face new challenges in the coming years, especially those arising out of theplanned withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in 2014. US and EU diplomats see the creation of a team of diplomatic trouble-shooters as a possible way to keep the potential for fresh upheaval to a minimum. But, as is often the case when it comes to the OSCE, Russia is seen as an obstacle to innovation.

“I anticipate some problems with this,” a senior OSCE official told EurasiaNet.org, speaking on background.

“We want this kind of rapid deployment. We have to empower the chair-in-office and the CPC,” the OSCE official added, referring to the Conflict Prevention Centre, the sometimes timid Vienna-based office charged with responding to crises.

Russia is reportedly opposed to the rapid-response initiative because it doesn’t want to see any new, outside meddling in the situations in Georgia or Trans-Dniester. But it’s important to note that Moscow is not alone in its opposition to the rapid-reaction idea. Turkey, for one, doesn’t like it due to concerns about how it might impact Ankara’s long-running disputes with Cypress or Greece. Thus, to secure approval, the proposal would have to avoid naming any specific existing conflict. One possible workaround is to target only new crises going forward.

Even if the OSCE can forge the consensus needed to give life to the rapid-reaction diplomatic team, it is uncertain how effective such trouble-shooters can be. Recent experience doesn’t inspire confidence.

Amid the violence and displacement in southern Kyrgyzstan during the summer of 2010, then-interim president Roza Otunbayeva begged the international community to take action to protect civilians. But OSCE officials found the mood on the ground to be unreceptive, even hostile. “There was a lot of suspicion in the south about Westerners coming in,” said the OSCE official. “We can’t go where we’re not wanted.”

Otunbayeva also asked the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to intervene, but Moscow declined. Even if Russia would have agreed to deploy CSTO peacekeepers, “the Uzbeks would not have consented,” said the OSCE official.

The OSCE belatedly attempted to send a 52-person Police Advisory Group to Osh, but local authorities resisted accepting even unarmed advisors on the ground. In the end, the effortcrumbled into a series of training visits.

Despite its flaws, the OSCE is still seen as the go-to venue for advancing both democratization and security goals. There are indications that quiet diplomacy conducted under OSCE auspices still yields results, such as the recent release of Turkmen journalist Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev from official custody. Rights activists contend that Yazkuliyev’s jailing was politically motivated.

The United States has not given up on the OSCE’s ability to promote and protect individual rights, evidenced by the fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to participate in the Vilnius gathering. In addition to pressing for the diplomatic rapid-reaction mechanism, US diplomats plan to unveil an Internet freedom proposal that is designed to broaden web access for citizens in the OSCE’s 56 member states. The plan reportedly has the support of 20 states. The OSCE’s Ministerial Council is the group’s main decision-making body.

Editor’s note:

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick writes about human rights issues in Central Asia. She is also editor of EurasiaNet’s Choihona and Sifting the Karakum blogs.

Pakistan summons envoys from world capitals

Review on the cards: Pakistan summons envoys from world capitals

The foreign office has called back its ambassadors serving in different countries to get feedback on Pakistan’s response to the Nato airstrikes, said the official.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan appears to be shaping for a paradigm shift in its foreign policy, with a flurry of directives making their way from Islamabad to its missions in world capitals. The move comes in the wake of the Nato airstrikes on Pakistan forward posts along the Afghan border on November 26.

On one hand, the government has summoned ambassadors serving in key world capitals for an emergency meeting to review Pakistan’s strategy in the war on terror in general as well as cooperation with the US in particular. The Nato strikes have had a major effect in Islamabad, and has hit an already uneasy alliance between Islamabad and Washington.

Envoys posted in Europe, Afghanistan, India and the US, among others, have been asked to furnish their recommendations for forming a strategy in view of the situation arising out of the Nato attacks, a foreign office official told The Express Tribune on Monday.

The meeting is expected to take place next week, the official added.

The pre-dawn raid at Pakistani check posts near the Afghan border, which left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead, has prompted the country’s top civil and military leadership to review political, diplomatic and military ties with the US.

Pakistan has already shut down the Nato supply route and has asked the US to vacate a remote, but key, airbase in Balochistan.

Pakistan insists that the incident was a ‘deliberate’ attack and as a result, “business as usual” is not possible with the US.

Despite world appeals and a last minute call by US President Barack Obama, Islamabad stayed away from the Bonn conference on Afghanistan, which began on Monday.

The foreign office has called back its ambassadors serving in different countries to get feedback on Pakistan’s response to the Nato airstrikes, said the official.

The consultations with ambassadors correspond with the announcement of a joint session of the parliament this month, where lawmakers are expected to evolve a consensus on ties with the US.

Meanwhile, in a major reshuffle, the government has decided to replace 14 ambassadors currently serving in Germany, Russia, Iran, India, Nepal, Kenya, Brazil, Egypt, Serbia, Tunisia and Chile.

Official sources have confirmed that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has already approved the reshuffle and an announcement, in this regard, is expected later this week.

It is also learnt that Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir is likely to be appointed Pakistan’s new High Commissioner to India, while the names of current Ambassador to Belgium Jalil Abbas Jilani and Zamir Akram are being considered as Bashir’s successor.

Published in The Express Tribune

Pakistan Army back in the saddle

Pakistan Army back in the saddle

ANITA JOSHUA

Pakistan army soldiers attend funeral ceremony of Saturday's NATO attack victims in Peshawar, Pakistan on Sunday, Nov 27, 2011. Photo: AP
Pakistan army soldiers attend funeral ceremony of Saturday’s NATO attack victims in Peshawar, Pakistan on Sunday, Nov 27, 2011. Photo: AP

With the attack on border posts and the allegations that followed, the U.S. has considerably undermined its own position and strengthened the Pakistani military establishment’s rhetoric.

In one fell swoop, the United States has squandered whatever gains it had made on May 2 by way of forcing the Pakistani nation to question the main arbiter of its destiny — the military establishment — and the choices it has made.

The raid that killed Osama bin Laden was a breach of sovereignty the Pakistanis were able to live with but what happened in the wee hours of November 26 along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is not just difficult to stomach but has also allowed the Pakistan Army to reclaim the national narrative.

Some of the most die-hard critics of the Pakistan Army were out on the streets protesting against the U.S. That they were also demanding a welfare state instead of a security state was lost on the onlookers who have generally been willing to buy into any anti-U.S. rhetoric, preferring to blame the outside hand for much that ails Pakistan instead of reconciling to some of the nation’s own flawed policies.

This time they had good reason. The U.S. had lived up to its reputation of being a brute force by entering Pakistani airspace and strafing two Pakistan Army outposts. Two parallel narratives are emerging and given that facts are invariably at a premium in this region — particularly in matters of security and strategy — not many here believe the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) assurance of a thorough investigation.

What is undeniable, and not even disputed by the coalition forces in Afghanistan, is that 24 Pakistan Army soldiers were killed and 13 injured in the ISAF strafing on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line. The U.S., the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the ISAF were quick to regret the incident but no apology was forthcoming though there were enough indications in the Pakistani discourse that the least the coalition forces could do was apologise.

In the bruised and battered Pakistani mindscape, the writing on the wall was clear: Their lives were cheaper than western lives, particularly American. This further fuelled the anger among a people who have had their lives turned upside down by the American desire for retribution post 9/11, and what is seen as Washington’s multiple ambitions in the region: military bases and a permanent presence — more than the usual diplomatic level — in Afghanistan to contain China and Iran, exploit the gas and mineral wealth in the region, and keep a watch on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

As days passed by, positions hardened and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was quoted as telling the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Relations that an apology would not suffice. A day earlier, Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO) Ishfaq Nadeem had described the attack as an “unprovoked act of blatant aggression” which was “not unintended.”

The Pakistani version goes thus: “After midnight on November 26, two or three helicopters appeared and started engaging ‘Volcano’ post, smashing all communication systems. In response, the ‘Boulder’ post engaged helicopters with anti-aircraft guns and all available weapons. The helicopter also attacked the post and communication was lost. By then all channels of coordination had been activated. We informed them about the attack and the helicopters were pulled back but they returned a while later and resumed firing that went on till 2.15 a.m.”

According to the DGMO, all Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) were violated by the ISAF and the NATO. As per the SOPs, both sides have to inform the other ahead of a military operation within 10 km of the border. In fact, the other side is then supposed to block possible escape routes that terrorists may use. But that night, none of these coordination mechanisms were activated by the two distrusting allies.

Pakistan maintains that the positions of the posts had been conveyed to the ISAF through map references. They could not be mistaken for terrorist sanctuaries because the other side had been provided all available information about the number of posts and their locations. The men at the posts were uniformed and the posts well-defined. Also, the Pakistan Army claims NATO was monitoring transmissions that night and knew they had hit ‘Volcano’ checkpost.

The NATO account — unofficial though — is that the incident took place when close air support was sent in on request by ground forces — a combined group drawn from coalition forces and Afghan troops — to the Eastern Kunar area of Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan after they were fired upon from the Pakistani side.

Without going into details of what kind of operation was being undertaken in Eastern Kunar — which has seen considerable crossfire this summer due to cross-border incursions by Pakistani Taliban groups led by Maulana Fazlullah (Radio Mullah) — ISAF spokesman Carsten Jacobson said the troops were operating in a very rugged part of the country. “It is in a part of the country where the borderline is not 100-per-cent clear. The Durand Line does not show 100 per cent the border on the ground. The forces were operating in Afghanistan.”

It is the ISAF’s contention that the coalition forces may have been lured into attacking Pakistani outposts in a calculated manoeuvre by terrorists who use the uncertainty of the border to their advantage. However, Pakistan has countered this argument with a demand for display of casualties suffered by the ISAF.

Also, the question why did the choppers come back after being pulled out on being told they were attacking Army posts, persists.

Pakistan also maintains that the area had been cleared of terrorists following a military operation in September in the Mohmand agency in the wake of repeated attacks on security posts by militants who move across the border with ease. In fact, the two posts that were pulverised had been set up only recently to prevent Fazlullah — who had unleashed a rein of terror in the picturesque Swat Valley before escaping to the Nuristan and Kunar areas of Afghanistan — from infiltrating and attacking Pakistani outposts and border villages.

Though, according to those who attended the DGMO briefing, Major-General Nadeem did not dwell on what possible objective(s) NATO/ISAF sought to achieve with this “deliberate attack,” the understanding across the board is that this was no mistake or accident, call it what you may. As the former Ambassador to the U.S., Tariq Fatemi, asked in one of the various television discussions on the issue, how can the Americans claim to have made a mistake when they have drone technology that, according to them, can kill terrorists with very few civilian deaths? “This is not the bullock cart age.”

Another apprehension is the possibility of this being an ISAF effort to test the waters on conducting hot pursuits inside Pakistan. Sceptical about the attack being a deliberate act, senior journalist Najam Sethi pointed out that “if this was a deliberate act, then our response was also deliberate. Our security establishment seemed to have prepared for such pressure tactics and therefore the swift response in closing NATO supply lines, asking the Americans to vacate Shamsi airbase…”

This, to him, does not augur well for either side as it means “both establishments are indulging in strategic war gaming.” This is not what allies do to each other and he is apprehensive that this game can slip out of either side’s hands at any point.

However, the former Interior Secretary, Rustam Shah Mohmand, who hails from the very tribal agency of Mohmand where the attack took place, is of the view that the relationship will be back on track in a few weeks. “Both countries are dependent on each other.” While Pakistan needs the aid that the U.S. provides, Washington needs Islamabad to bring some semblance of normalcy to Afghanistan.

The inevitability of getting back together is probably why Pakistan’s initial steps to articulate anger were developments that the U.S./NATO/ISAF can live with. Closure of supply lines to Afghanistan does not immediately impact the coalition forces as they had built alternate routes in anticipation of such a stand-off and the U.S., according to general understanding, had stopped using the Shamsi airbase for launching drone strikes sometime back.

Questions are being raised as to why the Air Force was not called in that night to counter the attack, but the DGMO indicated that this would have “escalated the scale of the incident.” Also, given the disparity between Pakistan’s military prowess and the combined strength of the NATO forces, a political response was preferred — though the civilian leadership was informed about the incident only after daybreak.

However, that line appears to be changing with Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani suspending the “command of chain system” so that any soldier or officer in a particular situation can act without waiting for orders from the top.

This ‘strike-without-permission’ green signal to the rank-and-file is likely to escalate tensions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and is a clear signal that the civilians will be out of the loop. Not that evidence was ever needed.