The alleged details of the Nato cross-border air strike on Pakistani military posts are more startling than the strikes themselves.
Perhaps this is why the prime minister has vowed no more “business as usual” with the United States. However, Pakistan stopped short on Monday of threatening to break the troubled alliance altogether.
According to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) spokesperson Major General Athar Abbas, the air assaults that claimed the lives of at least 24 Pakistani soldiers were not quick strikes, which could be chalked down to logistical mistakes – but attacks that lasted almost two hours.
Quoted by different international media outlets on Monday, Gen Abbas said that while the jets and helicopters pounded the installations, Pakistan’s military contacted their Nato counterparts. They asked that the fire cease, said Gen Abbas “but somehow it continued.”
If this is indeed the case, as a proper investigation is still pending, the claims made from across the border – that the firing came from Pakistan first – can only add fuel to the fire now burning in Pakistan over the incident.
“This is not true. They are making up excuses. And by the way, what are their losses, casualties [in this incident]?” Gen Abbas wrote to AFP in a text message.
He added that Nato and the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) are “trying to wriggle out of the situation” by claiming that the Pakistani troops fired first.
“There is no reason for the fire to be initiated from our area,” he said, adding that Mohmand Agency has been cleared of militants and that the army has regained control of the area.
“We have cleared the area and lost 70 officers in the operation already. Now we have to face the brunt of Nato from the other side?”
Referring to the apology issued by Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Sunday, he told Express 24/7: “This (apology) is not good enough. We strongly condemn the attacks and reserve the right to take action. We do not accept it because such kind of attacks have been taking place in the past…”
He later told a private television channel that 72 Pakistani soldiers have been killed and 250 wounded by fire from across the Afghan border over the last three years.
Gen Abbas said that the attack on Pakistani troops was “indiscriminate, highly callous and irresponsible” — refusing to accept expressions of regret over the cross-border attack that has inflamed US-Pakistani ties.
He stressed that the issue needs to be investigated, and the cause and use of weapons will be thoroughly explored.
This incident could also hurt cooperation on Afghanistan, Gen Abbas added. “This could have serious consequences in the level and extent of our cooperation,” he told Reuters.
In an interview on Sunday with British newspaper The Guardian, Gen Abbas went to the extent of saying: “I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by Isaf.”
Pakistani army officials said the posts that were attacked were about 300 metres into Pakistani territory. Isaf officers, however, maintain that the border in that area is disputed.
“This was a visible, well-made post, on top of ridges, made of concrete. Militants don’t operate from mountaintops, from concrete structures.”
PM strikes grave note
In an interview with CNN, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said incidents such as the Nato cross-border attack further alienated the masses, leaving his government isolated in its unpopular alliance with the US.
“Business as usual will not be there, therefore we have to have something bigger to satisfy my nation, the entire country,” he said.
Asked whether the US-Pakistani alliance can continue, he replied: “That can continue on mutual respect and mutual interest,” adding that both were currently lacking. “If I can’t protect the sovereignty of my country, how can we say there is mutual respect and mutual interest?”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2011.