You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of mankind in your own native soil. [Mohammed Ali Jinnah]

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mukhtar’s stand on US raid raises eyebrows

Saturday, September 06, 2008
Rahimullah Yusufzai

PESHAWAR: Unlike other defence ministers in the world who consider it their duty to defend their frontiers and people, Pakistan’s Minister of Defence Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar seems to have taken it upon himself to justify the US forces’ raids in Pakistani territory.

“No one carries out shelling without any reason after coming from far away,” the defence minister told reporters in Lahore. This is how he was quoted by sections of the Pakistani and foreign media. By arguing that there must be a reason for the cross-border raid in the early hours Wednesday, it was obvious that he was justifying the US attack on a Pakistani border village in South Waziristan that killed 15 civilians and injured another two. Among the dead were five women and three children.

In fact, the country’s defence minister wasn’t even aware that US aircraft didn’t carry out shelling on the Pakistani village as he made it out to be. Instead, up to four choppers, two Chinooks and two Cobra gunship helicopters, violated Pakistan’s airspace and landed near Musa Neeka village not far from the Pakistani border town of Angoor Adda. The troops brought by the helicopters then stormed three houses of innocent Pakistani tribesmen in Zololay hamlet and shot dead at least 15 of them. Ahmad Mukhtar, either deliberately or due to ignorance, made no mention of the US ground forces that raided the Pakistani village and committed an aggression that the defence minister and the country’s armed forces should have repelled. Otherwise, how does he qualify to be Pakistan’s defence minister if he cannot make an effort to defend the country’s borders and citizens?

This is the second time that the Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar has given statement that tends to justify cross-border raids by US forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas. But this one was insensitive to say the least because there was no report of any attempted infiltration of militants from the Pakistan side into Afghanistan that could have provoked the US military to retaliate. Besides, there was no evidence that the US troops had entered Pakistani territory in “hot pursuit”. All those killed were civilians and among the dead were women and children, who cannot be called al-Qaeda or Taliban militants by any stretch of imagination.

Subsequently, one heard on private TV channels that the defence minister had said he would issue a statement after completion of investigations into the South Waziristan incident. But by then the damage had been done as his initial reaction conveyed by him to reporters in Lahore had been widely reported and quoted.

This is undoubtedly a huge escalation in the hostilities on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. As defence minister, Ahmad Mukhtar should be worrying about the consequences of such acts of aggression and planning measures to reassure Pakistanis unfortunate enough to be living in these tribal borderlands. For five hours Wednesday, the aggrieved tribesmen kept the bodies of the 15 slain Pakistanis on the road linking Musa Neeka with Angoor Adda and Wana but no government official or army officer came there to listen to their grievances, condole with them the deaths of their near and dear ones and give them assurance that such acts of aggression by outside powers would be resisted in future. Pakistan Army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps have their bases in the area but no soldier moved from his entrenched position to come to the assistance of Pakistani villagers under attack from troops who had illegally crossed over from Afghanistan.

As defence minister, Ahmad Mukhtar should visit Musa Neeka and Angoor Adda, offer condolences to the grieving families and check and upgrade Pakistan’s defences at the border. He probably has never been to these parts and it would be a good opportunity for Pakistan’s defence minister to check out how life goes in an area that is frequently in the news and under attack from US, Nato and Afghan forces. He should also take along with him Rahman Malik, the prime minister’s adviser on interior affairs, who too is increasingly dealing with tribal areas and the “war on terror”.

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sad, really it is :(
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