Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NATO kills Paki soldiers infiltrating terrorists into Afghanistan


NATO's "frontline ally" Pakistan has finally started receiving richly-deserved punishment for its continued support to Radical Islamic terrorism in India, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

The Times of India reports:

Border skirmish hits Nato, Pak relations
Chidanand Rajghatta
[24 Jan, 2007 0005hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK]

WASHINGTON: NATO forces fired on a Pakistani check post on the border with Afghanistan on Monday killing a Pakistani soldier and wounding several others in the first incident of its kind, exacerbating tensions between the west and what skeptics say is a dubious ally in the war on terror.

The incident, which involved helicopter gunships from the U.S-led coalition, occurred in the Zway Naray area in Shawal Valley in North Waziristan inside Pakistani territory. It appears to have been a punishment for infiltrating terrorists into Afghanistan.

Islamabad condemned the attack amid an uproar in Pakistan's parliament, but NATO forces, which have been chafing at Taliban crossings into Afghanistan, were unrepentant. One report quoted coalition forces as saying they were responding to firing from the Pakistani check post, a tactic which would square with frequent Indian charges that Pakistan's military provides cover for infiltrating terrorists.

The incident on the ground flew against the frequently expressed sentiment in the higher diplomatic sphere about Pakistan's status as a frontline ally. Western ground commanders who have complained in the past about Pakistan hosting terror camps and infiltrating Taliban fighters into Afghanistan have often been shut up by political and diplomatic compulsions.

But the unspoken truce appears to have been broken on Monday and the use of a helicopter gunship would suggest clearance from a higher military command. US officials made of show of suggesting that the action might have taken place within the Afghan border but that would make the death of a Pakistani soldier more complicated.

Tension has been rising both on the Pak-Afghanistan border and in the diplomatic sphere between Islamabad, Kabul and NATO capitals over Pakistan's inability of unwillingness to crack down on Taliban and Al Qaida fighters crossing into Afghanistan.

Some western analysts have gone so far as to say Pakistan is hosting terror camps inside its borders. The U.S intelligence chief John Negroponte twice testified before Congress last week that Al Qaida elements operated from "secure hideouts" in Pakistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also become increasingly strident and vocal about Pakistan's sponsorship of terrorism inside Afghanistan. The testimony, and other statements by U.S and Afghan officials expressing increasing skepticism about Pakistan's commitment to fight terror, has been met with angry denials and belligerent outbursts from Islamabad's military dictatorship.

Pakistan says it has deployed more than 80,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan and lost 600 men in action. But most of the casualties are said to be from its fight against separatist elements in the Frontier and Balochistan, not against the Taliban, which is seen as a Pakistan-ISI proxy.

Reporters – including a New York Times' Carlotta Gall - who have tried to get close to the scene of action and the truth have been intimidated and assaulted by Pakistan's intelligence, which is widely believed to handle the Taliban.

"We now know why. Gall's reporting has determined that Quetta is an important rear base for the Taliban, and that the Pakistani authorities are encouraging and perhaps sponsoring the cross-border insurgency," the NYT said in an editorial.

"Americans need to know more about this collusion and to demand better answers from Musharraf," the paper said. "It is simply impossible to believe that this support takes place without the approval of the Pakistani military."

The editorial pointed out that Pakistan is now the third-largest recipient of American foreign aid and said "The very least Washington should be demanding of Musharraf is that he enforce an immediate halt on Pakistani military support for the Taliban insurgents who are crossing the border and killing American troops."

But bellicose Pakistani politicians spoke of retaliation against western forces in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Pakistani lawmaker Senator Hamidulah Jan Afridi told the government that "They (Nato forces) will not stop unless one or two of their planes were shot down."

"Violation of Pakistani territory from across the troubled western border must be retaliated," the country's Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Khan Niazi concurred. "Such attacks should be treated just like enemy attacks."

But going by past form, the Bush administration is expected to gloss over the spat while differentiating between Musharraf, who it regards as a faithful ally, and renegade elements in the Pakistani establishment.

Hours after the border spat, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up outside a U.S military base in Afghanistan, killing ten people.


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