Pakistani Troops Killed, the Memo, and How it Affects U.S.-Pakistan Relations

November 29, 2011 | By Isaac Kfir

U.S.-Pakistan relations, which had yet to recover from the fallout of the Raymond Davis incident in January and the killing of Bin Laden in May, are now facing another major challenge after NATO (ISAF) forces killed 24 Pakistani regular troops on November 26. The two posts that the troops were manning was located in the Mohmand Tribal area. The purpose of the two posts was to stop Pakistani Taliban militants from crossing the border. This is something that Washington has been demanding of Pakistan for some time.[1] Pakistan has responded to the incident by condemning ISAF and particularly the United States for the deaths; some Pakistanis even described the event as an unprovoked act of aggression.[2] Second, thousands have demonstrated against the United States and have demanded an end to U.S.-Pakistan relations.[3] Third, Pakistan has asked the U.S. to withdraw from the Shamsi air base in Balochistan, believed to be a staging post for US drones.[4]Fourth, Pakistan allegedly also withdrew an offer to encourage Afghan Taliban to partake in negotiations.

This latest development comes after months of speculation over a controversial memo passed by an American-Pakistani businessman Mansoor Ijaz to former American military chief Admiral Mike Mullen on May 10, 2011. The memo, which surfaced soon after the killing of Osama bin Laden, reportedly came from President Zardari via the Pakistani Ambassador to the United States at the time, Hussain Haqqani. In the memo President Zardari offered that in return for U.S. assistance he would rein in the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISI) and eliminate Section S – the body charged with maintaining relations with the Taliban, the Haqqani network and others. Zardari also offered to establish a new Pakistani national security team[5] that supposedly would be more pliable to Washington’s demands.

The reason why the memo and the killings have caused such anger within Pakistan is that ordinary Pakistanis are trying to come to terms with the way the world sees their country (a hotbed of Islamic radicalism and terrorism, without recognizing the damage caused by terrorism to Pakistan – 40,000 dead and billions lost in revenue). Pakistanis increasingly claim that radicalism and terrorism has come to their country courtesy of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. The view on the street appears to be that the U.S., NATO and the Afghan government are the ones not dealing with terrorists, while the Pakistani army battles away. Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, commander of the 11th Corps who is supervising the Pakistani military effort in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has declared, “We will take action against the terrorists in our area and Nato and Afghanistan should also take action against them (terrorists) in their area across the border… The Afghan government and Nato should not allow terrorists’ safe havens in Afghan provinces along the Pakistan border.”[6]

Second, over the past six months, Pakistan has had its sovereignty repeatedly violated, mainly by the United States, which has sent military forces into Pakistan to conduct operations. To a nation perpetually in fear of attack, this is a major concern, especially as U.S.-India relations are on the rise. Pakistanis are aware that after the T-90S debacle India is increasingly looking for new suppliers,[7] making them fearful of close U.S.-India relations.

Third, Pakistanis are frustrated with their own civilian leaders, whom they feel do not represent their interests and that of Pakistan. President Zardari’s corrupt background has remained with him, explaining his low popularity rating. The debate over the 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) has only heightened such perceptions as the country remains in turmoil following the Supreme Court ruling that declared the NRO unconstitutional. These issues have allowed the military, which over the last years has come under criticism as Pakistanis came to see its meddling in politics and especially in sponsoring of radical groups as a threat to their peace and security, to reassert itself in Pakistani society. This cannot help the development of sustainable democracy in Pakistan.

The death of 24 regular Pakistani troops who according to Pakistani sources were over a mile into Pakistani territory has allowed the army to claim again that Pakistan needs the army more than ever, as the country comes under more and more threats. Pakistanis remember the way their civilian leaders capitulated over the Raymond Davis incident and the killing of Osama bin Laden, and Pakistanis are tired of these violations, especially among the rank-and-file who view these violations as a stain on their honor. Thus, as the army’s stock rises on the Pakistani street, politicians and public leaders’ emphasize that violations of Pakistani sovereignty will no longer be tolerated. This has major implications for the U.S. and the region, as we are likely to see a more aggressive Pakistani foreign policy that will only further frustrate Washington. That is, Pakistani leaders – civilians and military – will now need to bang the jingoistic, nationalist drum even louder than before.

All hope must rest on the enigmatic General Kayani, the Pakistani army chief, who now must devise a way to continue to work with the United States, the bête noire for his middle-ranking officers, who last year at the National Defense University challenged their commander as to why they are engaged in a war in the tribal belt.[8] It is imperative that the United States take drastic measures to change AfPak, as it is clearly not working. Afghans appear increasingly frustrated with U.S. presence that many nowadays see as occupation or supporters of a corrupt government and system.[9] Pakistanis are also expressing anger with the United States whom they feel fails to appreciate their sacrifices in dealing with terrorism and insecurity. Washington must understand that U.S. national security should not lie solely on having physical military presence in South Asia. This is because whenever military mistakes occur, it not only destroys months and years of great hard work undertaken by the indefatigable U.S. military whose commitment to bring a better tomorrow for South Asia has been commendable, but instead fosters anti-Americanism. Such mistakes coupled with unguarded statements by U.S. leaders in respect to the region ultimately undermine U.S. national security.


[1] “NATO attack allegedly kills 24 Pakistani troops,” The Guardian, November 26, 2011.

[2] Major General Athar Abbas has declared, “I cannot rule out the possibility that this was deliberate attack by ISAF.” Julian Borger and Saeed Shah, “NATO braces for reprisals after deadly air strike on Pakistan border post.” The Guardian November 27, 2011.

[3] This is not the first time that Pakistani troops have died

[4] “Out of the Blue,” The Economist, July 30, 2011.

[5] Mansoor Ijaz, “Time to take on Pakistan’s Jiahdist Spies.” The Financial Times, October 10, 2011.

[6] “‘Nato should act against terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan,’” October 29, 2011.

[7] In 2001, India purchased 310 T-90S main battle tanks, which include also permission to build 1,000 tanks at the Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF) in Avadi, Chennai and a full technology transfer. Delivery of the technology has been slowed while the tanks have not been battle-worthy. Ajai Shukla, “Technology transfer, supply of assemblies hit Russian stonewall,” Business Standard, November 28, 2011.

[8] Kathy Gannon, “NATO raid in Pakistan undercuts rapprochement,” CBS News, November 28 2011.

[9] Rahim Faiez, “Afghan students protest at pact to host US troops beyond 2014,” The Independent, November 21, 2011.

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