NOVEMBER 24, 2011: Two Apache helicopters, part of a wider group of NATO air support, flew into within 1km distance from Pakistani airspace and launch an unprovoked attack at two border checkposts in the Salala area of Mohmand Agency, named Boulder and Volcano that were manned by soldiers of the Pakistan Army. More than 20 soldiers were martyred and 13 injured in this sudden aggression. Among the martyrs was the Sindhi origin Major Muhajid Mirani from Larkana, the city which has also given Pakistan its most venerated dynasty of political martyrs.
ISPR VIDEO OF SITUATION AT SALALA CHECKPOSTS AFTER PRE-DAWN NATO ATTACK
Pakistan took immediate measures to make the US government aware of its surprise, anger and outrage at this horrendous incident.
- Within hours of the attack taking place, Pakistan closed the Torkham and Chaman border crossings.
- The government of Pakistan cut off the ‘NATO supply line’, also referred to as the ground lines of communication (G-LOC), and evicted the CIA contingent stationed at Shamsi air base in Balochistan that was reportedly being used for launching drone attacks on Pakistani territory. Pakistan’s former dictator and Army Chief Pervez Musharraf held the dubious honour of providing the facility to the CIA in the first place.
- The Parliamentary Committee on National Security was tasked with carrying out a grand review of all agreements that had been drawn between Pakistan and the United States since both resumed their decades-old alliance at the dawn of the Global War on Terror in 2001. Their responsibility also included suggesting new terms of engagement in the US-Pakistan relationship.
- Pakistan also successfully boycotted the 2nd Bonne Conference on the Afghan war in a step that was myopically condemned by the familiar naysayers and virulent critics of this democratically elected PPP government. Let’s not consider how their response would have been more of the same had Pakistan attended the same conference!
With Pakistan virtually ending any and all cooperation with the United States and its NATO allies, bilateral relations between the two countries, already testy after OBL’s discovery in Abbotabad, started to worsen. Though minimal concessions were made by both sides in an attempt to end the impasse reached, such efforts were ultimately in vain as the people, the government and the leadership of Pakistan demanded one thing above everything else!
An official apology from the world’s sole super power for what its troops had done. One young leader went to the United States itself bravely bearing this message. That young leader was the Chairperson of the PPP, Mr Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
In his very first visit to Larkana after the Salala incident in December 2011, the Chairperson visited the residence of Major Mirani and offered his condolences to the bereaved members of the martyred officer’s family. According to some media reports, he carried out this visit despite warnings about some potential security threats he faced at the time.
In the second half of the next year, just as his father the President of Pakistan Mr Asif Ali Zardari represented the country at the Chicago summit of NATO member countries, the Chairperson famously dared the US President to make the apology to Pakistan during a speech he gave at a meeting of PPP supporters in New York. In his subsequent appearances at various US media outlets and news shows, the Chairperson continued to reiterate Pakistan’s right to an apology from the US government for the atrocious mistake its forces had made on the Af-Pak border.
CHARLIE ROSE SHOW:
THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER:
ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS:
For a time after such public pronouncements, the US-Pakistan relationship had reached a state of limbo. Visits of high-ranking US military and civilian officials to Pakistan and declarations from our government to continue our alliance with the United States generated hope but faltered as the apology remained the sternest obstacle in the improvement of this most complex of relationships. Media reports were now suggesting that this relationship could turn into full out hostility with the US continuing to insist on its no-apology stance.
Then, when hopes of a turnaround in this relationship had died, some sudden developments were witnessed from the American side. On July 3, the commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen visited Pakistan and met Gen Kiyani to make a “personal” apology to the Pakistani Army Chief. According to media reports, Kyani turned it down and asked for an official apology as this issue was between the two states of Pakistan and the United States.
Late into the night, the American government finally relented and Hillary Clinton made a formal apology for the Salala attack in a phone call to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister.
“We are SORRY (capitalised for this post) for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Thus the months long suspension of the ‘NATO supply line’, that had increased the logistical expenses of the United States by more than $2 billion, was ended and pre-Salala level cooperation with the United States and NATO was resumed.
The PPP government and the PPP Chairperson deserve a great amount of credit for resolving this highly contentious issue with our national honour intact and our prestige enhanced! Throughout this monumental crisis, the democratically elected government of the people of Pakistan achieved feats of stategic policy and international diplomacy that even the toughest dictators could not!
The world’s sole superpower was forced to set its ego and stubbornness aside and was made to heel by this PPP government and the leadership and the PR effort of its young and determined Chairperson, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He wanted an apology for the martyrdom of his troops. He did not relent till he got one!