As relations between the US and Pakistan continue to deteriorate, it appears that drone strikes have again been put on hold. I can find no reports of any strikes since the March 17 strike on a village jirga killed over forty people. This strike especially infuriated Pakistan, coming just a day after Raymond Davis was released and, despite ample evidence of many civilians being killed, the initial US response was defiant, claiming that only militants were killed and that those killed “weren’t gathering for a bake sale”. Pakistan immediately canceled its participation in the already delayed (due to the Davis case again) trilateral meeting with the US and Afghanistan. I can find no new date yet announced for this meeting. The US military has clearly stated that General David Petraeus has not apologized to Pakistan’s military for the strike and now General James (fun to shoot some people) Mattis is meeting with the head of Pakistan’s army today. This meeting comes amid yet another escalation in the diplomatic break between the two countries, as Dawn reports that a number of US military personnel have been barred from the leaving the country.
There is a chronological list of drone strikes in Pakistan at Wikipedia. Note that Raymond Davis was arrested after killing two Pakistanis on January 7 of this year. It took a while for relations over this incident to fray, but notice that at the height of the Davis crisis, there were no drone strikes between the strikes on January 23 and February 21, a gap of almost a month. It was in the middle of that gap, on February 12, when the US announced that it was delaying the trilateral meeting, presumably as a protest against Davis being held. We now are in a gap of three weeks, with no reported attacks since the March 17 attack a day after Davis’ release. This attack prompted a rare immediate response from the Pakistan military:
The Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued an unusual and unusually strong condemnation of the attack. “It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens, including elders of the area, was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” the statement said.
And as mentioned above, the US response only heightened the crisis:
But American officials on Thursday sharply disputed Pakistan’s account of the strikes and the civilian deaths, contending that all the people killed were insurgents. “These people weren’t gathering for a bake sale,” an American official said. “They were terrorists.”
After some local Pakistani press reports that Petraeus had apologized to Kayani for the attack, the US military made the strange move of denying such an apology:
The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) Commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus has neither apologised nor given any explanation to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani regarding the killing of 44 civilians in the March 17 drone attack in Dattakhel area of North Waziristan Agency.
A local news agency reported that Petraeus had contacted Kayani to apologise over the killings.
When contacted by The News, a US military source in Pakistan denied these reports carried by a local news agency, and said, “With regards to the allegation that General Petraeus contacted the Pakistani military or that he expressed regret over this alleged incident, I can assure you that General Petraeus hasn’t had any contact with Pakistani military leaders since his meeting with General Kayani on March 3.”
In a further escalation of diplomatic moves, Pakistan has now barred a number of US military personnel from leaving the country:
There are varying claims about the number of US soldiers denied exit from the country. Some sources claim that about 20-30 people have been affected, while others contend the figure is slightly less than one hundred.
The men were assigned to the US Office of Defence Representative in Pakistan (ODRP), which oversees Washington`s military relations with Islamabad, including training and equipment.
Most of these people had been working on different projects with the Pakistan military. Some of the soldiers had overstayed their visas while a majority of them had expired NOCs.
In the midst of these tensions comes today’s meeting between General James Mattis, head of Central Command and Kayani:
General Mattis, head of US Central Command overseeing the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, would meet Pakistan’s army chief Ashfaq Kayani for a “regular, scheduled visit”, the US embassy in Islamabad said.
“It’s not extraordinary… it’s a military to military relationship,” said embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez.
But the visit comes after a US report this week criticised the Pakistani military for failing to forge a clear and sustained path to beat religious insurgents holed up in the lawless regions bordering Afghanistan.
Let’s hope that Mattis has learned some diplomacy since his famous speech in 2005:
Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded Marine expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq, made the comments Tuesday during a panel discussion in San Diego, California.
“Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot,” Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. “It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.
“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil,” Mattis said. “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”
What could possibly go wrong by sending this man to a critical meeting during a time of frayed relations?