Islamabad firm on boycotting Bonn meet on Afghanistan
Pakistan on Friday stuck to its guns vis-à-vis boycotting next week's Bonn Conference on Afghanistan even as the Government accused certain unnamed quarters of subverting Islamabad's efforts for reconciliation in Afghanistan and the Army hardened its stance by permitting the rank and file to respond to any attack without awaiting directions from the command.
In a message to the troops, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani released them from the ‘chain of command' that necessitates orders from the top for responding to attacks from any quarter. Providing a new set of rules of engagement for everyone down the chain of command – especially the unit/sub-unit commanders – he said they now had full liberty of action to respond when under attack and could use all capabilities available. “This will require no clearance at any level.''
Though this message is seen as a bid by the Army top command to lift the morale of the troops after the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation attack on two border outposts last Saturday left 24 soldiers dead and 13 injured, the general apprehension is that this could escalate tensions with Afghanistan as cross-border firing has become an irritant between the two countries.
In his command communiqué to the troops, the COAS said any act of aggression will be responded with full force, regardless of the cost and consequences. Stating that he was proud of the men who fought back in the border posts with everything they had including artillery in the form of air burst, he added: “The response could have been more effective if PAF [Pakistan Air Force] had also joined in. However, it was no fault of PAF. The timely decision could not be taken due to breakdown of communication with the affected posts and, therefore, lack of clarity of situation, at various levels, including the Corps Headquarters and GHQ [General Headquarters].''
This decision was also communicated to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security by Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani. The Committee endorsed the decision of the Cabinet to boycott the Bonn Conference and will meet again after Moharram for a briefing from the Finance Minister on the possible implications of a prolonged stand-off with coalition forces. Addressing the Committee, Mr. Gilani provided the government's perspective on the prevailing situation. Stressing on the importance of good relations with all neighbours, he said a stable and peaceful Afghanistan was in Pakistan's interest; adding that this country had been severely impacted by the turmoil in its neighbourhood.
Of the view that the international community has not appreciated Pakistan's sacrifices and commitment to battling terrorism, he said the notion of giving Islamabad a “to do'' list and the mantra of “do more'' had caused immense resentment. Add to this the tendency to project Pakistan as the “problem'' instead of the “partner'' that it is, and make it a scapegoat for failings of international policies in Afghanistan.