In the aftermath of the NATO attack on Pakistan’s check post in Mohmand Agency on November 26th, the country protested strongly claiming it was ‘unprovoked’ and ‘deliberate’. About 24 Pakistani troops had died in the attack. Subsequently, Pakistan blocked NATO’s Afghan supply line, gave a 15 day notice to the Americans for vacating the Shamsi airbase, and boycotted the Bonn conference.
Although US and NATO passed condolences and sincere regrets, they did not apologize. Meanwhile, Pakistan refused today to take part in the joint NATO investigation of the incident. Now a more serious escalation is taking shape that cannot be simply discounted as rhetoric.
Pakistan denied claims by the Wall Street Journal that Pakistani officials gave the go ahead for the NATO strike which killed 24 people. A Pakistani military official denied the report; “Without getting clearance from the Pakistan side, the post had already been engaged by US helicopters and fighter jets. Pakistan did not have any prior information about any operation in the area,” he said.
US officials have however said US commandos came under fire from a camp along the border with Pakistan which turned out to be a military post. They said the US commandos contacted the joint border-control to determine if there were any Pakistani military personnel in the area. When called, the Pakistani representatives at the centre said there were no Pakistani military forces in the area identified by the commandos, clearing the way for the air strikes, the US officials said. Washington has ordered an investigation into the incident and for a formal report to be submitted by Dec 23.
Pakistan has declared it will retaliate if NATO forces attack its territory again. General Kayani after a meeting with his top commanders commented that NATO would now be viewed as a threat. Former Federal Administered Tribal Areas secretary Brig (retd) Mehmood Shah said,
“Until now the focus of security forces at the Afghan border was to take action against militants and stop cross border infiltration but now they will also be keeping an eye on future NATO strikes.”
Defense analyst Lt General (Retd) Abdul Qayum added that according to the decision, Pakistani soldiers would not have to seek approval from their commanders to retaliate against NATO airstrikes. Reports also suggest Pakistan is considering deploying more troops along its borders with both Afghanistan and India and that it has already equipped the troops with the appropriate weaponry.
Meanwhile, according to a British newspaper, NATO has decided to increase its operations against insurgent groups in Pakistan. The military organization is considering escalating aerial attacks and cross border ground raids. ISAF commander, General John Allen, said the need to confront the sanctuaries in Pakistan was “one of the reasons we are shifting our operations to the east”.
NATO is hoping to reduce extremism from the tribal belts so that Afghan security personnel will be able to contain the threat when power is handed over in 2014. US and Afghanistan are also likely to sign a strategic deal at the Bonn Conference that allows presence of US troops there up to 2024.
It is unclear how NATO will seek to proceed following last week’s air strikes, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and raised tensions between Pakistan and NATO. However, PoliTact sees a war of nerves and a much more serious escalation in the making.