December 6, 2011

New York Times: Pakistan Fans the Flames

An ironic headline for an editorial that fans the flames:
Pakistan is refusing to help calm public fury — or help figure out what led to a NATO attack that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead. It has rejected American entreaties to participate in a joint investigation. On Monday, it boycotted an international conference in Bonn that laid plans for Afghanistan’s future. Both moves are self-defeating.

If there is any chance of salvaging a working relationship, Washington and Islamabad must establish what went wrong along the border and work together to ensure that it does not happen again. The Pentagon has promised a transparent inquiry — it must deliver one — and officials say they can compensate for Pakistan’s lack of cooperation by using phone conversations, e-mail exchanges and surveillance images. But without Islamabad’s participation, the Pakistani public will never find the results credible.

The two sides have radically different versions of what went awry during an Afghan-American operation against a Taliban training camp. The Americans say they were fired on first and cleared the strikes with Pakistani Army officers. The Pakistanis say that NATO gave the wrong coordinates for the strikes and that their forces fired only after the attacks began.

The United States needs Pakistan’s cooperation — as grudging and duplicitous as it is. Islamabad controls supply routes for American troops in Afghanistan (they were closed in retaliation for the attack), and it is essential to negotiations with the Taliban. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta quickly offered condolences. President Obama waited eight days to overrule Pentagon concerns and telephone President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan to say the deaths were regrettable and accidental. We share frustrations over Pakistan, but that delay further fueled the crisis.

Pakistan needs American aid and help to hold off the extremists — a fact no Pakistani leader has the courage to admit. Their behavior in recent days has become even more irresponsible. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of the Pakistani Army, made things more dangerous by giving his border troops the green light to return fire without asking for permission beforehand.

Pakistan’s refusal to attend the Bonn conference was misguided. The meeting, attended by dozens of countries and organizations, worked on a political and economic strategy to ensure Afghan stability after NATO troops draw down. Pakistan has a strong strategic and economic interest in Afghanistan’s future. With its boycott, it has denied itself a voice and increased its own isolation.
Observations of a typical piece of NYT propaganda:

Islamabad’s response to the Salala incident certainly leaves much to be desired from an American point of view. Determining the sequence of events on an unmarked mountainous border becomes an even murkier quagmire without Pakistani input. Its double-sided support for the Taliban is also prone to sporadic explosions, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Regardless of Washington’s strategic mismatch with Islamabad, the narrative offered by the NYT (and America’s predominate narrative in Pakistan) will increase counter-productivity across Afghan-Pakistan border and within government channels. Putting aside several meek attempts to sympathize with Islamabad's situation, the NYT concludes that most of Salala’s responsibility (and Afghanistan's war as a whole) lies with Pakistan. While conceding that U.S. officials moved too slow to stem Islamabad’s outrage, the NYT is primarily concerned with venting its own agitation.

“So far, Pakistan’s leaders seem most interested in fanning popular anger,” read the NYT’s initial editorial on Salala. “The Obama administration and NATO have wasted precious time, allowing the crisis to escalate.”

“Do more” and “everything is Pakistan’s fault” only increase the trust deficit that the NYT wishes to close. Another unpersuasive line: “The United States needs Pakistan’s cooperation — as grudging and duplicitous as it is.” That thinking will surely bring Pakistan around to the U.S. point of view.

Islamabad’s refusal to participate in a NATO investigation forfeited an opportunity to release its side of the story. Non-cooperation may be tied to internal errors committed by Pakistani leadership, namely the Air Force’s non-response. General Kayani’s order to shoot on sight is also linked to Islamabad’s history of lapses with U.S. forces; a hard-line response attempts to conceal military shortcomings. Yet the NYT offers few positive words on NATO’s investigation and still expects Pakistani officials to cooperate in full. They have good reason to doubt NATO’s objectivity, starting with how quickly U.S. officials manipulated Salala’s crime scene.

Islamabad presumably balked as soon as the Pentagon floated rumors that Pakistani troops might have fired on the U.S.-Afghan patrol (which the NYT alludes to).

The political race to control Salala’s information battleground placed another wall between Washington and Islamabad. If the governments do cooperate, U.S. officials are liable to shut down Pakistan’s version of the incident. Just as Islamabad “seems most interested in fanning popular anger,” Washington seems primarily concerned with erasing U.S. responsibility on Salala ridge.

The NYT itself offers no context to a tumultuous history - its editors enter at 2011. The same Vietnam syndrome pervaded a recent interview between PBS's Charlie Rose and James Jones, President Barack Obama’s first National Security Adviser.


  1. The NYT is a craven publication fallen low from past glories. It is a kind of anti-journalism being peddled.US warmongers are running out of scapegoats and bogeymen.

  2. The NYT is happy to publish all of the U.S. leaks on the NATO raid. Not that this isn't news, but...