Pakistan urges Ottawa to lift arms ban
Olivia Ward, Toronto Star, November 11, 2009
Another bloody day ended in Pakistan Tuesday with at least 24 people dead in a car bombing, apparent revenge for an army offensive along the jagged Afghan border.
It was the third attack in the past week that focused on Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province, which borders the turbulent tribal region where the Pakistani army is battling to dismantle Al Qaeda and Taliban safe havens.
And if Canada continues its 11-year arms embargo, denying Pakistan some badly needed border surveillance equipment, said Pakistan's Toronto Consul-General Sahebzada Khan, the violence is likely to escalate.
A U.S. troop "surge" against the Taliban in Afghanistan, under debate in Washington, could intensify the embattled country's problems.
"We have told NATO and the United States that new boots on Afghan soil will push Al Qaeda into Pakistan," Khan said in an interview with the Star. "It's a very porous border, and nothing has been done to improve control there."
He is asking Canada to supply technical equipment that would help detect militants and seal the border, a suspected source of attacks on Canadian troops.
"Most of the killings (of troops) have been due to roadside bombs. What we are trying to do is neutralize the people making the bombs," said Khan, a former top foreign ministry official.
It's not the first time Pakistan has sought military aid from Ottawa. Since it began a massive offensive against the Taliban in its border region last spring, it has called for aid including unmanned drone aircraft. Ottawa turned down the requests, citing a 1998 embargo on military exports that began when Pakistan fired its first nuclear tests. Instead, Canada pledged $25 million this year in humanitarian aid for more than a million people displaced in the fighting. It also is giving $34 million in bilateral aid.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to India next week is expected to include a deal that would relax a 35-year-old ban on nuclear trade with Pakistan's rival, which also tested atomic weapons. That would likely increase tensions between Islamabad and Ottawa.
"The Pakistanis are bitter," said Kamran Bokhari of the U.S.-based Stratfor global intelligence company, who has just returned from meetings with senior Pakistani military officials. "They say they're doing all the heavy lifting in this war against the Taliban, and getting none of the credit."
Khan said Pakistan wants Ottawa to supply non-lethal military equipment, including thermal detectors to catch militants sneaking over the border, explosives detectors, night-vision goggles, sniffer dogs and mine detection gear.
"Canadian electronics and military equipment is superior," he said. "If we don't get it, controlling the border will not be effective."
But some question why Pakistan, which has received billions of dollars in military aid from the U.S. since 9/11, is so ill prepared to fight a war against the Taliban, which now controls more than a dozen militant groups on the border.
"It's likely that the army received relevant equipment from the U.S., but the extent and challenge of growing militancy in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (the border region) convinced it that it requires much more," said Hassan Abbas, an authority on Pakistani security, and author of Pakistan's Drift into Extremism.
"Pakistan's armed forces are historically trained for conventional warfare with India, and counter-insurgency is a comparatively new concept for them. More so because the terrain of FATA, where the army is now operating, is very mountainous and tough. It needs tools and equipment that are more useful for counter-insurgency."