After Strike, Pakistan Pundits Say 'Grin and Bear It': The Ticker

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By Katherine Brown

It has been a painful year for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The Nov. 25 NATO air strike in the district of Mohmand near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers is -- one hopes -- the nadir.

Pakistan's leaders have so far reacted to the strike decisively. They want an official apology and have effectively shut off NATO supply lines to Afghanistan in the interim. The U.S. must leave the Shamsi Airbase in western Pakistan, reportedly used for CIA drones, in two weeks. And Pakistan may boycott an international conference in Bonn, Germany, on Afghanistan next week. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told CNN today, that there will be no more "business as usual" with the U.S. "We have to have something bigger so as to satisfy my nation."

But will this disenchanted alliance actually break?

Four major English-language Pakistani newspapers, all known for their liberal bent, ran editorials on the tragedy saying that Pakistan and the U.S. must continue to muddle through.

The editors of Dawn wrote on Nov. 27 that NATO must formally apologize for the attack, but has "done the right thing" in promising an investigation. However, "Pakistan must be included in the investigation, and if a mistake was made, NATO must commit to ensuring that its troops will not repeat it in the future." They continued:

The Pak-Afghan border has become increasingly dangerous for both countries, with incursions and attacks taking place in both directions. The need is for more cooperation, not less. But the mistrust that an incident like this can foster will do nothing to bring that about.

The editors of the News International also insisted on a formal apology, and had some advice for U.S. and NATO forces:

This is the time for US/Nato/Isaf forces to understand the dark side of wanting to go it alone and think about accepting Pakistani offers for enhanced coordination. They also need to consider the effects of a prolonged closure of the border on NATO supplies ... This combined with Pakistan’s indispensable intelligence assets makes Pakistan an undeniably crucial partner. Losing Pakistan’s trust and cooperation would significantly impact the Afghan endgame. The US and allied forces would benefit from keeping this in mind as the investigations into the incident begins.

The Daily Times, known for being very liberal, even pointed some of the blame at Pakistan. The Nov. 28 editorial, "Aftermath of NATO attacks," read:

At the heart of the issue lies the fact that the Afghan Taliban can come and go across the border as they please to attack U.S. and NATO targets in Afghanistan only to cross back into their safe havens in Pakistan ... If we cannot stop providing safe havens what is to stop the U.S. and NATO forces from conducting hot pursuit and attacks on our sovereignty to fight off the militants?

And on Nov. 26, the Express Tribune's editors similarly wrote, "The fact is that such incursions of our sovereignty have become routine and we have become so dependent on the US that we just have to grin and bear it."

Editors of a conservative newspaper, the Nation, couldn't disagree more. They wrote on Nov. 28 that the "next, logical step" for Pakistan is to "withdraw from the USA’s War on Terror." They continued:

Now that Pakistani soldiers have started being killed in such numbers by their so-called allies, it should be clear even to the meanest intelligence that participation in the War is much more than the country can afford, and that the only way to prevent further losses is to withdraw from an alliance which is unpopular among the people. Any conceivable advantages to the government party of its subservience to the U.S.A. are outweighed by the disadvantages that will become even clearer as time goes on.

It's a message that has been amplified in recent days by cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan, and can easily resonate with the 69 percent of Pakistanis who, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, see the U.S. as an enemy.

(Katherine Brown is on the staff of Bloomberg View.)

-0- Nov/28/2011 21:47 GMT