ISLAMABAD, Nov 28: Two days into yet another crisis with the United States, the government was treading the predictable and well worn path on Monday.
Very little was heard from Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, while the civilian government swung into action on the diplomatic front, issuing warnings to the superpower through the media as well, though in private it was hinting that the incident did not spell the end of Pak-US relations as has been predicted in the aftermath of the Nato attacks on Pakistani border posts on the weekend.
At the forefront of the public diplomatic offensive were Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
In an interview with CNN, the prime minister warned that there would be “no more business as usual” with Washington after death of 25 troops in what his government has been describing as “unprovoked Nato/Isaf attack on Pakistani territory”.
He then went on to add that for the relations to continue there had to be “mutual respect and respect for Pakistani sovereignty” which he regretted was no longer the case. His words could be seen as a threat or an admission that the relations would continue as long as Washington made some concession on intangible values such as ‘respect’.
Mr Gilani, who also said that an apology this time would not be enough to satisfy his nation, is expected to take parliament into confidence about the review of relations with the US.
That his words did more than just represent the sentiments of the civilian government was evident from the statement of a senior government functionary who said that “consultations are continuing within the military and with the political leaders on revisiting the extent and level of cooperation with the US”.
However, there was no indication anywhere that Islamabad or Rawalpindi was considering a radical departure from the past and gearing up for a serious confrontation with Washington.
Background interviews with senior diplomats and military officials made it clear that despite the fury on display, ‘Islamabad-Washington relations’ were ‘resilient’ and were far from a breakdown. Most of them were also of the view that Pakistan would seek a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
And as the prime minister revealed his government’s intentions through an interview, Ms Khar spoke to her counterparts in Beijing and Moscow and briefed them about the Nato attacks and the decisions subsequently taken by government.
She told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the attacks were a gross violation of established international norms as well as a threat to regional peace and stability.
Her counterparts responded with diplomatic language: Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi expressed deep shock and strong concern over the incident and called for respecting Pakistan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Both the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers demanded thorough investigations into the incident.
Intriguingly, there was little information about the government’s contacts with the Americans and/or Nato officials — the parties directly involved. However, it was confirmed that both Pakistan Army and Isaf/Nato were separately conducting their investigations into the attacks.
An Isaf spokesman, speaking to Dawn from Kabul over telephone, said that investigations were underway.
He refused to comment on a Pakistani claim that Nato attacks continued for close to two hours despite pleas to the contrary. “Everything is part of investigation what happened then and moments afterwards. I can’t comment on that.”
Pakistan Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas, while confirming the probe being conducted by the army, said it would like to determine how precision targeting was done.
Gen Abbas said the coordinates of all Pakistani posts had been shared with Nato to avoid such mishaps.
The general further added that the attack took place 200-300 metres inside the border while rejecting Nato’s claim that Pakistan forces initiated the fire.
“Nato forces should present proof if they claim that firing was started from Pakistani side. No fire was opened from our side.”
Saturday’s attack on border posts was the most serious incident so far during the ten years of Pakistan’s alliance with the US in the war on terror; the casualties on Saturday were far higher than the June 2008 deaths of 11 Pakistani paramilitary troops in a Nato aerial strike.
An aerial incursion by Nato choppers and firing on a border post last year also led to the closure of critical supply route of western forces. Apologies by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) commander in Afghanistan had then helped defuse the situation and the supply routes were reopened after 11 days.
This time, however, the government is claiming that it will not settle for an apology alone. This is why officials are claiming that the government is yet to decide on whether or not to attend the Bonn Conference on Dec 5.