Pakistan has expressed immense outrage over the ‘unintentional’ NATO attack on a border check point that killed 28 Pakistani soldiers. The “unprovoked and indiscriminate” attack took place in Mohmand tribal region, north-western Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, the Pakistani military has said.
Within hours of the attack the Pakistani establishment closed the border crossing for supplies bound for Nato forces in Afghanistan, plunging the already frayed US-Pak relations to a new low. “A strong protest has been launched with NATO/ISAF in which it has been demanded that strong and urgent action be taken against those responsible for this aggression,” Pakistani Army Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called it “outrageous” and convened an emergency meeting of the cabinet.
Relations between the United States and Pakistan had hit a rough patchfollowing the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US special forces in a raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May, which Pakistan had termed a flagrant violation of sovereignty.
It remains unclear what exactly happened, but the attack took place around 1 am IST in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants.
“Pakistani troops effectively responded immediately in self-defence to NATO/ISAF’s aggression with all available weapons,” the Pakistani military statement said.
About 40 Pakistani army troops were stationed at the outposts, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead.
“The latest attack by NATO forces on our post will have serious repercussions as they without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep,” said a senior Pakistani military officer, requesting anonymity.
The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John R Allen, said he had offered his condolences to the family of any Pakistani soldiers who “may have been killed or injured” during an “incident” on the border.
The checkpoint at the centre of this latest incident was set up to prevent insurgents crossing over the border into Afghanistan. The movement of insurgents from the area into Afghanistan has been a concern for the Nato-led Isaf and the US.
The US has been targeting militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas near the Afghan border for several months, often using unmanned drone aircraft. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is often poorly marked, and differs between maps by up to five miles in some places.
The incident occurred a day after Allen met Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.
US-Pak relations were already reeling from a tumultuous year that saw the bin Laden raid, the jailing of a CIA contractor, and US accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the US Embassy in Kabul.
The United States has long suspected Pakistan of continuing to secretly support Taliban militant groups to secure influence in Afghanistan after most NATO troops leave in 2014. Saturday’s incident will give Pakistan the argument that NATO is now attacking it directly.
“I think we should go to the United Nations Security Council against this,” said retired Brigadier Mahmood Shah, former chief of security in the tribal areas. “So far, Pakistan is being blamed for all that is happening in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s point of view has not been shown in the international media.”
Paul Beaver, a British security analyst, said relations were so bad that this incident might have no noticeable impact.
“I’m not sure US-Pakistan relations could sink much lower than they are now,” he said.