A diplomatic row between Islamabad and US-led international forces stationed in Afghanistan appeared to be worsening on Thursday after Pakistan temporarily suspended overland Nato supplies to retaliate against repeated intrusions and killing of its personnel.
According to the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), three Frontier Corps (FC) soldiers were killed and three injured on Thursday in firing by the two helicopters that crossed the border into Pakistan at an outpost of the Frontier Corps.
But Brigadier General Josef Blotz, senior spokesman for Isaf in Kabul, told Express 24/7’s Quatrina Hosain that the incident occurred “when Isaf observed a group of insurgents trying to fire mortars at a coalition base in Afghanistan’s Paktia province.”
In the first incident on Thursday, two helicopters from Afghanistan crossed the border into Pakistan at Mandata Kandaho, Ali Mangola area of Upper Kurram Agency.
Troops of the Frontier Corps present at the post retaliated through rifle fire to indicate that the helicopters were crossing into Pakistani territory. The helicopters in response fired two missiles, which killed three soldiers and injured three others.
The second strike took place in the Mata Sangar area. Isaf says the helicopters targeted militants in Afghanistan’s Paktia province, opposite Kurram, and that they did not cross into Pakistan. The slain security personnel were identified as Nawazish Khan, Shahinshah and Ali, while Afsar Khan, Duniya Khel and Norouz were injured in the attack.
In the meantime, Nato and the Pakistani government said they were investigating the reported incident in Kurram district which Washington has branded an al Qaeda headquarters and hub of militants fighting in Afghanistan.
Islamabad also retaliated by shutting down movement of Nato cargo through Pakistan, citing security reasons “Trucks carrying supplies for Nato troops in Afghanistan have been stopped for a day from Karachi to Torkham,” an official told The Express Tribune.
An official from the Frontier Constabulary (FC) said the suspension was “temporary” and trucks would start driving towards Afghanistan on Friday.
It is for the first time in nine years that Nato supplies were hindered by any reason other than attacks by groups affiliated to al Qaeda and Taliban, especially Lashkar-e-Islam led by Commander Mangal Bagh in Khyber.
The Nato attack brought widespread condemnation from within Pakistan. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Pakistan “will not tolerate any such attacks on its security forces.”
Malik said that after these attacks Pakistan “will have to think whether Nato considers it a friend or a foe.”
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani took up the Nato attacks with visiting CIA chief Leon Panetta. The CIA chief is trying to convince Pakistan’s military leader¬ship for an all-out operation in North Waziristan.
The latest strike came on the heels of similar multiple attacks by Nato helicopters inside North Waziristan tribal district over the last weekend, killing 50 people, most of them from the Haqqani network.
Overall, it was the fourth cross-border attack by Nato troops in what officials in Brussels, the Nato headquarters, said was ‘hot pursuit’ to kill Pakistani militants allegedly launching ‘audacious’ guerilla strikes in Afghanistan.
Almost three quarters of Nato supplies are routed through Pakistan, from Karachi to Torkham through Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and parts of tribal areas.
According to locals and officials in Khyber tribal agency just outside Peshawar, Nato trucks were being stopped at Takhta Baig, hardly a couple of kilometers from the city. “They (trucks) are in hundreds. The FC personnel are guarding them,” the locals said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Brussels has been instructed to lodge a strong protest at the Nato Headquarters over the missile strike.
“The UN mandate for Isaf is confined to Afghanistan and Nato/Isaf forces are again advised to refrain from any actions that constitute a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” the statement said.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2010.