WASHINGTON: Barely disguising mutual antagonism, the United States and Pakistan on Thursday threatened each other with military action in the aftermath of the American raid on the Abbottabad compound to kill Osama bin Laden, even as sober elements on both sides scrambled to save the relationship from total breakdown.
The White House led the way in publicly reiterating that it would not hesitate to carry out more such special operations in Pakistan if it did not act against terrorists holed up in the country. A lengthy Pakistani foreign office statement that the US incursion could not become the standard operating procedure or precedent for US or other countries did nothing to dissuade Washington from re-asserting the tough Obama policy: if there are terrorists inside Pakistan and it does not act, then the US will.
In fact, the White House itself surprisingly framed Sunday’s raid a war context. “The operation was conducted in a manner fully consistent with the laws of war,” Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney said while discussing the Osama kill. “There is simply no question that this operation was lawful… We acted in the nation’s self-defense.” The remarks appeared to address Pakistan questioning the legality of the US action.
A rattled Pakistan fired back on Thursday through both its civilian front and military cabal which had been silent for more than three days after the US raid widely seen there as humiliating. The provocation for the angry Pakistan reaction was as much concern about more US incursions (and humiliation) as fears that New Delhi would take the American raid as a precedent, an apprehension that was heightened after Indian military commanders said they had the wherewithal to conduct similar special operations.
Statements from New Delhi to the effect that India would not do anything like that to Pakistan during its moment of embarrassment did nothing to assuage Islamabad.
Pakistan’s foreign secretary Salman Bashir, with an obvious eye on India, said that any country that again seeks to raid its territory would face consequences. “We feel that that sort of misadventure or miscalculation would result in a terrible catastrophe,” he said. “There should be no doubt Pakistan has adequate capacity to ensure its own defence.”
Revealing that Pakistan had scrambled its F-16s as soon as it got to know of the raid, Bashir said “The Pakistan security forces are neither incompetent nor negligent about their sacred duty to protect Pakistan. There shall not be any doubt that any repetition of such an act will have disastrous consequences.”
The irony of Pakistan scrambling US supplied F-16s to shoot at Americans hasn’t sunk in in Washington, where some lawmakers are asking for a re-evaluation of the relationship.
The Pakistani military also took on the US, threatening to disrupt its war effort in Afghanistan if there were more such actions. A meeting of corps commanders presided over by army chief Ashfaq Kayani issued a tough statement saying the “COAS (Chief of Army Staff) made it clear that any similar action violating the sovereignty of Pakistan will warrant a review on the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States.”
The meeting also reportedly resolved to ask the United States to reduce to the strength of its military personnel in Pakistan to a “bare minimum level.”
While the two sides fired verbal volleys at each other long distance, Pakistan’s envoy to Washington, Hussain Haqqani and US interlocutors tried to calm things down by emphasizing cooperative aspects of the relationship. Several key US players, including Senator John McCain, urged the administration not to push Pakistan to the wall.
But the Obama administration’s tact is being tested by stunning leaks from Pakistani investigators who took over the Abbottabad compound, including disclosures that that bin Laden was killed in cold blood, as witnessed by his 12-year old daughter, and that the raiding party encountered no resistance at all in terms of firing.
Pakistani officials also reportedly sold photographs of the carnage, showing unarmed men (excepting bin Laden, whose body was taken away by American forces) lying in pools of blood, to western news agencies. They said the three men had all been shot in cold blood by US forces.
The exchanges came even as Washington clammed up on further operational details of the US attack amid discrepancies and doubts about how bin Laden was eliminated and whether there was an option for him to surrender.
President Obama on Wednesday decided not to release pictures of bin Laden’s extermination because of its gruesome nature, saying it was the US did not want to use such images as “trophies.”
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