Pakistan said an attack by the American-led NATO force based in Afghanistan that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers had triggered “rage” in the nuclear-armed nation and reversed progress in repairing ties with the U.S.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in a phone call with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday explained decisions made by the Cabinet’s defense committee to close border crossings to trucks shipping supplies for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and order American personnel out of the Shamsi Airbase in Baluchistan province within 15 days, according to an e-mailed statement from the foreign ministry.
Khar told Clinton of “the deep sense of rage felt across Pakistan at the senseless” loss of life, the statement said. The air attack on border posts “negates the progress made by the two countries on improving relations and forces Pakistan to revisit the terms of engagement,” yesterday’s statement cited Khar as saying.
The U.S. and Pakistani governments have been trying to stabilize their relationship after a year that included Pakistan’s detention of a Central Intelligence Agency contract employee for killing two Pakistanis, the U.S. raid that that killed Osama bin Laden in May, and public accusations by top U.S. officials that Pakistan’s army is actively aiding militant groups that the U.S. defines as terrorist.
Clinton in an October trip to Pakistan told the country’s leaders they must show results from cracking down on guerrilla sanctuaries or risk further pressure from Congress to cut off billions of dollars in aid and to mount U.S. attacks against militants’ hideouts on Pakistani soil.
After expressing “a lot of displeasure and anger” the U.S. and Pakistan “will ultimately go back to negotiations in the next three to four weeks,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political analyst. “A complete breakdown in the relationship doesn’t suit the interests of either country.”
Pakistan’s dependence on western aid means it can’t afford “to take things to a point of no return,” Rizvi said. For its part, the U.S. needs to keep open supply routes for its troops in Afghanistan and it needs Pakistan’s help in containing al-Qaeda and keeping pressure on the Taliban, he said.
Hundreds of trucks carrying supplies for North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops were backed up at Pakistan’s main border crossings with Afghanistan yesterday, the Associated Press reported. The CIA uses Shamsi to launch drone aircraft that target militants in the remote region near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported June 15.
In the Nov. 25 attack, NATO helicopters and a fighter aircraft fired at Pakistani border posts on the mountainous frontier between Afghanistan’s Kunar province and the Pakistani district of Mohmand, according to a statement posted on the Pakistani army’s website. The attack is at least the fourth on a Pakistan border facility by NATO forces in 15 months.
Afghan and Pakistani Taliban factions regularly attack U.S. and other NATO forces from their bases in Pakistan and try to slip back across the frontier for protection from NATO retaliation. ISAF has at times asserted a right of “hot pursuit” of Taliban guerrillas into Pakistani territory, while Pakistan has objected, calling such actions a violation of its sovereignty.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan border passes through rugged mountains and desert terrain and is unmarked over most of its more than 2,600-kilometer (1,600-mile) length. The two countries dispute the border’s location in many areas.
Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff Parvez Ashfaq Kayani said Nov. 26 the attack was a “blatant and unacceptable act,” and demanded urgent action against those responsible.
NATO offered condolences and sympathy to the families of the Pakistani soldiers killed in a “regrettable incident” along the Afghan-Pakistani border, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen said he had written to Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani “to make it clear that the deaths of Pakistani personnel are as unacceptable and deplorable as the deaths of Afghan and international personnel,” he said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. NATO and the U.S. said the incident is being investigated.
Clinton was “deeply saddened by the event and conveyed the U.S. government’s desire to work with Pakistan to resolve the issue,” according to the statement issued by Pakistan’s foreign ministry yesterday.
“This incident puts General Kayani in a very difficult position among his troops,” Talat Masood, a retired army lieutenant general and security analyst in Islamabad, said in an interview. “I don’t think both allies will go to the tipping point, but it makes things even worse at a time when the Obama administration was trying to restore a working relationship with Pakistan after the Osama bin Laden incident.”
Caught in the Middle
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday” that U.S. troops are “caught right in the middle” of the ongoing conflict and that it should be left to the Afghans. “This is a terrible theater that we have been unable to find a clear path toward reducing terrorism,” he said.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, said on the Fox program that “our expectations have to be very, very low in terms of what we can get out of the relationship.” He said he would tie U.S. aid to a successful working relationship. Anything short of that would warrant looking for “a new partner in the region,” he said.
Pakistani Support Needed
“It’s not the kind of situation where you can just cut off all assistance, because we do need their support in the region,” Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
U.S. forces attacked areas in the border districts of Kurram and North Waziristan in September last year, killing what Pakistan said were several of members of its paramilitary Frontier Corps, an army-led force that guards much of the border.
Pakistan closed its frontier for 10 days to the NATO-contracted trucks that haul food, uniforms, construction material and other “non-lethal” supplies from its port of Karachi into Afghanistan. Pakistan re-opened the border after a joint investigation with U.S. officials and a NATO apology for the attacks.
NATO oversees the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Afghanistan. The Nov. 25 incident “has my highest personal attention and my commitment to thoroughly investigate it to determine the facts,” said the ISAF commander, Gen. John R. Allen, in an e-mail. “My most sincere and personal heartfelt condolences go out to the families and loved ones of any members of Pakistan Security Forces who may have been killed or injured.”
Cameron Munter, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, said “the United States will work closely with Pakistan to investigate this incident,” according to a statement from his embassy.