In a swift rescue operation, Pakistan’s security forces recovered the abducted Canadian-American couple and their three children from the Taliban in FATA’s Kurram agency. According to the ISPR, Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle were retrieved after a successful shootout at the terrorists’ convoy, which entered Pakistan from Afghanistan, where the family was held hostage for the last five years. The following day, the Taliban killed four Pakistani soldiers, including one officer, in retaliation.
The Taliban kidnapped Coleman and Boyle in 2012 from the remote area of Afghanistan, while the couple were allegedly backpacking. According to initial reports, Coleman was seven months pregnant when the couple had gone to Afghanistan to help the underprivileged. Soon after his rescue, Boyle told the press in Canada that his wife was raped by one of the security guards, with the couple also losing one of their infant child. Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban, rejected the allegation and said that it was against the principle of Jihad to commit such an act.
US President Trump described Pakistan’s effort to rescue the Canadian-American couple from the Haqqani networks’ captivity as an act of showing respect towards the US. “They worked very hard on this, and I believe they are starting to respect the US again,” Trump told his audience in Pennsylvania. ‘Respect again’ may have been used as a synonym to ‘do more,’ the most frequently used word by the US administration in its conversation with Pakistan since the war in Afghanistan stopped delivering gains to the US. It is still not known what the US wants to achieve in Afghanistan, especially after taking out Osama Bin Laden (OBL), whose chase had led the US to begin the war in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks.
A sudden rush of appreciation from the US and Canada on Pakistan’s timely intervention to rescue the couple from the terrorists who were about to kill the former proved a long-awaited drop of shower on a parched relation. The question was however asked: will the admiration bring trust back between both (US and Pakistan) the countries. From Pakistan’s perspective, the operation reinforced its policy of bringing peace to the region by defeating terrorism in every form and manifestation.
However, no sooner, a damper was cast by the CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s claim that it was not intelligence sharing but warning that made Pakistan act diligently to rescue the couple. Pompeo who was talking to the Foundation for Defence of Democracies think tank, in Washington, alleged that the couple had been in Pakistan all these years and not until the US warned Pakistan of an OBL type operation did the country put its act together. Putting OBL and this couple, not terrorist by any definition, in the same category, again casts doubt on the ability of the frame of reference the US uses to analyse a situation especially when it involves Pakistan. If it has merely become a habit with the US to put Pakistan down, this would only make things more complicated, because Pakistan is not a choice but a necessity to work with on the Afghan cause.
It also becomes intriguing and adversarial to the statement of the CIA Director when Boyle refuses to board the US plane fearing the US forces’ scrutiny over his previous marriage to the sister of a Guantanamo detainee, Omar Khadr. US intelligence officials had seen Boyle’s association with Khadr with suspicion and the latter’s visit to Kabul part of a broader effort to link-up with the Taliban. With so much suspicion playing out on both sides and the couple not being as huge a challenge to the US security as was OBL, a threat of Navy Seal operation appears frivolous. More so, when the Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid rebutted CIA saying: “The Canadian were not on Pakistan soil but in Paktia in Afghanistan.”
There is another version of this story, according to which, the CIA had decided to kill the family to put Pakistan in a new quandary from where it would have become much easier for the Trump administration to make Pakistan face fierce music for supporting terrorists. A timely intelligence effort by Pakistan saved it from getting into the harm’s way. From how the US is changing track on the issue, one is tempted to believe that some scheming did fall through.
Speculations and counter-speculations about the couple’s intentions and the operation would keep making rounds until the truth is revealed. Will the truth ever be allowed to come out is another question, though. In the week since the couple has been hunted down, it appears that the US is playing a good cop/ bad cop with Pakistan in its new dealing with Islamabad. At the end of the day, what we can safely say is that it is business as usual with the US.
Durdana Najam is a journalist/columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org