Slim pickings: Washington gets helicopter tail back from Pakistan

The biggest achievement of Sen. John Kerry’s visit to Pakistan was the authorities’ agreement to return the tail of the U.S. stealth helicopter that was damaged during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2.

The raid by an elite Army unit called Task Force 160 has further strained relations between the two countries. Pakistan complained of not being given prior warning of the raid, while U.S. officials openly wondered whether their Pakistani counterparts allowed bin Laden to hide there.

Since the chopper’s tail could potentially contain sensitive military technology, the United States did not want to leave it in Pakistan, fearing lest it be reverse engineered in China or elsewhere.

The tail will be returned to the United States, but not all U.S.-Pakistani problems can be resolved so easily because they concern not just these two countries, but also U.S. policy regarding a vast area from the Himalayas to Morocco.

Political failure

Kerry is a close associate of President Barack Obama and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His Islamabad mission was part of a complex process of resetting relations with Pakistan, which have been in a tailspin for some time.

Apart from convincing Pakistan to relinquish the helicopter tail, the Senator worked with Pakistani officials on agreeing a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. His visit also clearly indicated that the United States will not ask forgiveness for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty on May 2.

At the same time, Kerry assured Pakistan that next time, should there be a next time, the United States will be sure to warn the local authorities of any planned big game hunting.

Kerry said he was there with Obama’s backing “to find a way to rebuild the trust between our two countries.” Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani agreed that the two countries needed just that.

Much more was said at the final news conference and during the televised addresses given by Kerry and the Pakistani officials.

Undecided matter

Regrettably on Tuesday, just as the atmosphere seemed to be clearing, NATO helicopters firing from Afghanistan wounded two Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border attack on the north west of the country.

This is not the first incident of this kind. In general, reports about the U.S.-led war on terror being fought in Afghanistan and partially in neighboring Pakistan show that NATO troops kill virtually an equal number of the Taliban and Pakistani soldiers and civilians. Of course, they apologize later, but then go ahead and make the same mistake again.

And lastly, statements by Sen. Kerry and Pakistani officials do nothing to clarify the key issue: the multibillion U.S. aid to Pakistan as an ally in the fight against terror.

Shortly after the announcement of bin Laden’s death in Pakistan I wrote that “the new bill requires the Congress to investigate the situation and cross all the t’s before Pakistan is given any more American money.”

Americans want to know who was hiding the world’s most wanted man “800 yards from the Abbottabad military academy, Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst.” They are unlikely to act until they get an answer, unless Hillary Clinton reveals new information when (and if) she visits Pakistan.

Mission impossible

When U.S. troops pull out of Afghanistan in 2014, relations with Pakistan will change, and not necessarily for the better. But this is the best possible option. Sending more troops to fight the Afghan war for several more years, or worse still, invading northern Pakistan, would be even worse, because more innocent civilians could be killed.

U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would also strengthen the positions of China and Iran in the region. Tehran is America’s recurrent nightmare, as Presidents Bush and Obama failed to find the correct approach in dealing with the Iranian authorities.

Furthermore, the United States is losing another key ally in the Broader Middle East, Saudi Arabia, in part over Iran. The situation is comparable to the conundrum with Pakistan: whatever you do, nothing seems to work.

According to recent publications in the U.S. media, the population of Saudi Arabia, much like that of Pakistan, doesn’t like the United States, partly because of Israel and Palestine. These problems were further complicated when Iraq actually became an Iranian protectorate after the U.S. pullout. The fear remains that the same could soon happen in Afghanistan.

On top of that, Washington has decided to provide moral and ideological support to the ongoing Arab revolts. In so doing, it has not necessarily made friends in Egypt or Tunisia, but it has definitely made enemies in Saudi Arabia, because pro-Iranian forces and other people the Saudis dislike are gaining strength thanks to the chaos of the Arab Spring.

This is why Saudi Arabia warned Washington that they would have to do without each other. In plain English, this means that Saudi Arabia has not yet made a decision.

The above cannot be described as an apparent failure of U.S. foreign policy in the region, because Washington so far opted for the most pragmatic political solutions. Unfortunately, its choice is limited, as in the case of Pakistan, although crucially, the blame for that cannot be pinned on the current U.S. administration.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Leave a comment