Sweet and Sour Pak-US Relationship:
What had appeared to be a big bilateral “confidence-building measure” in the ongoing anti-terror war has kicked off strong reaction within Pakistan. On Wednesday ((November 24th) Pentagon informed the media in Washington about a new facility being built up in southwestern Pakistan to house US military officials. “Pakistan Army General Headquarters recently approved a US Office of Defense Representative (ODR) and Coalition presence at the Pakistan military’s 12 Corps HQ in Quetta,” a Pentagon official said during a media briefing, quoting a report submitted to the Congress.
On the face of it, this amounted to a big headway in the uneasy Pak-US relationship. For years, US and western intelligence community have remained seized with Quetta, which they believe the Taliban central command structure – commonly known as the Quetta Shura – uses to plan its militant campaign in Afghanistan. Only days before, Pakistan had, officially, spurned a US request for extending the CIA-led drone campaign into Balochistan and its capital. The drones currently are restricted to the Waziristan region, where the Predator and Reaper unmanned planes have rained hundreds of Hellfire missiles in nearly 95 strikes this year so far.
US has been Eyeing Quetta for a Long Time:
General Petraues, the top US commander in Afghanistan, and other NATO officials view militants holed up in North Waziristan under the protection of the al-Qaeda linked Haqqani Network as well as the “Taliban Quetta Shura “ as a significant source of instability in Afghanistan, where violence tripled during 2010.
Although it would be naïve to believe the US thus far had no security presence there, the new facility in Quetta would provide American military, and presumably, its intelligence community formal access to areas, which they suspect, Taliban may be using for planning attacks on NATO forces inside Afghanistan. This way, a lot of pressure would be off Pakistan, which until attempted, in vain though, to convince Americans that the Shura doesn’t exist in the city. The main ODR is located within the US embassy in Islamabad with sub-offices in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. ODR officials in Islamabad sounded pretty upbeat about the permission to operate out of Quetta. “This is a big confidence-building measure and also underscores the confidence of the Pakistani security establishment,” a senior ODR told a media person. This will help both ways, the officer said, requesting anonymity.
Strong Political Opposition in Pakistan:
But the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) Friday stunned the government and the military by questioning the move. His party also has moved a request for the issue to be discussed in the national legislature. “We are extremely worried about what is happening in and around Quetta and demand a clarification by all those who permitted the establishment of the US facility in Quetta,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, a central PML-N leader, told media on Friday at the Parliament.
Back & Forth Movement on Pak-US Diplomatic Ties:
Regardless of the occasional diplomatic skirmishes between the two military establishments such as an incursion of a US gunship helicopter into Pakistani territory late September or the latest shelling (Friday morning) by NATO gunships on targets in North Waziristan, both countries seem to have made a big headway in winning each other’s trust, probably as a result of three rounds of the Strategic Dialogue since early this year. The third round took place in Washington between Oct 20-22nd, attended by foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the army chief Gen.Ashfaq Kayani. Interestingly, on the first day of the Strategic Dialogue, Present Barack Obama surprised every one with his undeclared appearance to “spell out in unambiguous terms, how he thought the bilateral relationship could move forward,” a diplomatic source had told me then. “The US cannot accept that you support “murderous groups” who are killing innocent Americans and others.” The biggest concern relates to extremists in Pakistan who target US citizens in Afghanistan and US homeland, Obama said as secretary of state Hilary Clinton and the Pakistani delegates heard him in pin-drop silence.
Quetta-permission; a Step Forward?
The permission to establish an ODR facility at Quetta could possibly be a sequel to the Strategic Dialogue, probably a concession by the Pakistan army which is anticipating a stepped-up NATO campaign against militants operating in the Pak-Afghan border regions. It, however, would be interesting to see as to how the government and the army handle the opposition to the expanding operational cooperation between the United States and Pakistan