The chasm between Pakistani and Western reactions to last week’s NATO attack on Pakistani forces seems to be growing if official actions/statements, media reports, conversations with friends on all sides, and ad hominem twitter flame wars
are any indication.
It goes without saying that Pakistanis are still in mourning for the death of their soldiers in what is a major national tragedy for a country that has had many national tragedies in recent years. But there is more going on than the understandable hurt and anger that follows a tragic friendly fire incident. This incident appears to be intensifying the sense of humiliation felt by a large number of Pakistanis and the sense of deep mistrust felt by many Westerners after the Abbotabad raid.
There are probably a dozen other reasons why the tension is increasing at this point in time, but one that strikes me is the role of the media in fanning the flames of distrust, particularly as I see the kinds of articles being posted on social media sites by Pakistanis and Westerners.
It is obvious that the national press helps to frame and shape public opinion in any country, what is more interesting is how. (I want to be careful here: I am not making any argument about why this is being done — frankly, I don’t know why; I am not arguing that there is a conscious decision by newspaper editors in Pakistan to fuel greater distrust. I am only stating that selective or careless editing and reporting seems to limit the scope for dialog and create even more misleading impressions, although there is no doubt that the relations between Pakistan and its Western allies have been deeply strained for sometime and not without cause, i.e. some of the strains are not due to misunderstanding but to understanding one another all too well.)
Exhibits A&B: The Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper ran an article on Friday titled “Nato Plans to Quell Pakistan Based Insurgents: Guardian” which was based on the Guardian article, “Nato plans push in eastern Afghanistan to quell Pakistan Based Insurgents.” Since it was obvious that the Dawn article lifted passages word for word from the Guardian article, I thought it would be interesting to compare what was changed from the original to the version aimed toward a predominately Pakistani audience. Using the compare document versions / track changes function on MS Word, it is easy to see what the Pakistani edits look like (see below). Text inserted by the Dawn is underlined, text deleted by the Dawn has a strike through. Here are some initial observations — the document with tracked changes follows afterward:
1. The first and most obvious change between the two version is the different pictures which accompany each article. The Guardian shows a crowd of Pakistanis burning an effigy of President Obama, while the Dawn went with a file photo of General John Allen. Here the credit goes to the Dawn for not choosing an inflammatory image.
2. An entire paragraph explaining how Western officials had been encouraged by the results of drone strikes in North Waziristan was deleted. The fact that these drone strikes occurred with the cooperation of the Pakistani military is obviously critical to providing a complex framing of the events.
3. The idea that Pakistan’s army might permit a “free fire zone” in the tribal areas has also been deleted, but perhaps because it is speculative and somewhat absurd to begin with.
4. The possible explanation that NATO might have accidentally thought the fire from the Pakistani side was coming from insurgents is deleted. This is a serious omission by the Dawn.
5. Evidence that Pakistani officials had cooperated to defuse a similar incident only a few days after the deadly attack is deleted. Later, the Dawn also deletes the part of the Guardian story which mentions that General Allen had met with General Kayani only the day before last week’s attack to try to coordinate cross-border efforts against the insurgents’ havens in Pakistan.
6. The statistical evidence cited by ISAF which might explain why there will a planned push in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan is deleted.
Obviously, this is only a comparison of two news items in what is by now a massive and growing number of articles on the incident. So there is no way to say anything even remotely definitive. However, this little exercise makes me wonder whether these kinds of omissions in the way the incident is explained are replicated in other Pakistani accounts. And I also had to wonder what aspects of Pakistan’s side of the story are being omitted in Western narratives…
plans push in eastern Afghanistan to quell Pakistan-based insurgents
Isaf aims to reduce threat to Kabul by insurgent groups and has not ruled out cross-border raids into Pakistan commanders are planning a substantial offensive in easternaimed at insurgent groups based in, involving an escalation of aerial attacks on insurgent sanctuaries, and have not ruled out cross-border raids with ground
The aim of
the next two years is to reduce the threat represented by Pakistan-based groups loyal to insurgent leaders like the Haqqani clan, Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur.
Nato hopes to reduce
the level of attacks in the eastern provinces clustered around Kabul to the point where they could be contained by Afghan security forces after transition in 2014.
The move is likely to add to the already tense atmosphere following the recent border post attack by Nato helicopters that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. On Thursday, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani,ordered his troops to return fire if they came under attack again by its ally. While drawing down forces in Helmand &
and Kandahar, the US will step up its presence in eastern provinces bordering Pakistan, bringing the long-festering issue of insurgent sanctuaries in the Pakistanitribal areas to a head. The message being given to the Pakistani military is that if it cannot or will not eliminate the havens, US forces will attempt the job themselves.
Western officials had been encouraged by the fact that a blitz of drone strikes against commanders loyal to insurgent leaders Jalaluddin and his son Sirajuddin in Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, and against forces loyal to Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan, had produced few civilian casualties and no reaction from the Pakistanis. Consequently, an increase in cross-border raids by special forces – and even the withdrawal of the Pakistani army to create a free-fire zone – have not been excluded.
“The Pakistanis may not have the strength to defeat the Taliban and the Haqqanis on their own, even if they wanted to,” a western diplomatsaid.
It is unclear to what extent
killing of 24 Pakistan soldiers will have on
the Nato strategy. An investigation is underway into the incident, which appears to have started with an exchange of fire between Pakistani and mixed Afghan-Nato forces, with the latter calling in air support. Nato sent in aircraft believing the fire from the Pakistani side was from insurgents.
As a consequence, Pakistan
closed supply routes used by
the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf)and barred the US from using a Pakistani air base to launch drones. However, Nato officers said that Pakistani forces had been co-operative in a similar incident on Tuesday, helping prevent it from escalating.
Isaf statistics published earlier this week showed a 7% drop in insurgent attacks across Afghanistan in the first 10 months of this year compared to the same period last year. The decrease in the Helmand area was 29%. But in the eastern provinces the figures show a 21% rise in attacks, now the most violent area, accounting for 39% of all attacks.
Isaf commander, General John Allen, said the need to confront
the sanctuaries in Pakistan was “oneof the reasons we are shifting our operations to the east”.
In an interview in Kabul, Allen, a US marine, did not give specifics of
strategy and said nothing about cross-border operations.
The day before the fatal border clash, he had met Kayani, to discuss cross-border co-operation ahead of the eastern surge, clearly hoping the move against the sanctuaries would be a joint effort.
According to The Guardian,
Allen said he did not know what
the long-term consequences of last Saturday’sclash would be, describing it as a “tragedy”,but made clear that the push to the east would continue.
“Ultimately the outcome we hope to achieve in the east is a reduction of the insurgent networks to the point where the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces ] can handle them, reducing them in 2012, if necessary going after them in 2013,”Allen said.
“I wont go into the specifics of the operations but as we consolidate our holdings in the south and as the population centres there in the Helmand River valley and in [Kandahar], we will conduct substantial operations in the east … the idea being to expand the security zone around Kabul.
In particular we are going to pay
a lot of attention to the south of Kabul –Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, Zabul.
Because in the end if you have a population in the south that feels secure and
it’ssecured by the ANSF, and you have a population in the east in and around the centre of the gravity of Kabul, and those two are connected by a road so you have freedom of movement, you have a pretty good outcome.”