Pakistan to Blame for NATO Airstrike

How much longer until counter-terrorism cooperation ceases altogether?

The Pakistani military is accusing the U.S. of purposely killing its 24 soldiers on Saturday and Pakistani-American relations are, again, at a new low. It may be only a matter of time before Pakistani cooperation on counter-terrorism dwindles from little to nothing but the U.S. shouldn’t be blamed. The NATO airstrike, even if it was a case of misidentification, happened because Pakistan’s border posts allow terrorists to fire across the border.

The details of what happened on November 26 are sketchy, but it is known that U.S. and Afghan forces were attacked. Most reports say the attackers were the Taliban, while another says they belonged to a Salafi militia. The U.S. says it called the Pakistani military, which said it had no soldiers in the area. An airstrike was called in, which the Pakistanis say took place 300 yards inside their country and lasted for over an hour. It is suspected that NATO may have fallen for a Taliban ruse, and accidentally bombed a border post thinking it was a terrorist camp.

One account says that the Pakistani soldiers at the border post shot at a U.S. helicopter pursuing the terrorists, resulting in return fire, though the Pakistanis claim they did not fire first. It is unknown if the border post personnel tried to down the helicopter or if responsibility lies with terrorists sheltered in or near the base. Either way, Pakistan would be to blame for the incident.

Anti-American protests erupted in Pakistan and an effigy of President Obama was set on fire. Prime Minister Gilani said Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. is no longer “business as usual.” The Pakistanis immediately shut off the supply route to Afghanistan. The trucks are now lined up at the border, vulnerable to attack. The Pakistanis are boycotting an international conference to discuss Afghanistan and is ordering the U.S. to evacuate the Shamsi Air Base, where drones take off from, within two weeks.

Clashes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, including ones involving American forces, are more common than is recognized publicly. For example, on May 14, 2007, Pakistani soldiers and ISI intelligence operatives carried out a carefully laid-out ambush of American forces, killing one soldier. The incident was covered-up to prevent putting stress on the relationship between the two countries.

In May, shortly after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, Pakistani forces fired upon a U.S. Apache helicopter. Two Pakistani soldiers were wounded in the clash. The Pakistanis claimed the aircraft ventured into their airspace, which the U.S. denied. Since then, there has been an enormous increase in the amount of cross-border rocket fire. One Afghan province on the border suffered at least 55 attacks by the end of last month, whereas last year there were only two over the same period. There were at least 102 attacks across the border since May, when there were just 13 last year. U.S. forces are not allowed to fire back into Pakistan.

On September 25, Afghanistan accused Pakistan of permitting the firing of over 340 rockets in just four days over the border. On October 3, terrorists fired four 122-millimeter Grad rockets into Afghanistan less than 100 feet away from a Pakistani border post. It is suspected that someone at the post helped tell the terrorists where to aim the rockets. U.S. officers say that many attacks happen less than a mile away from border posts that have a clear view of them. The Pakistani military claims it doesn’t see it happening.

Pakistan’s blocking of the supplies to Afghanistan is its most aggressive action yet since the killing of Osama Bin Laden. About half of the non-lethal supplies sent to NATO forces in Afghanistan arrive through Pakistan. As Richard Miniter notes, that is significantly less than what it was during the Bush administration, when 80 percent came through that route. He argues that the U.S. should airlift more supplies using allies in central Asia and that the U.S. should secretly build a supply route through India. Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism recently led Afghanistan to form a “strategic partnership” with India, Pakistan’s worst enemy.

It is an open question whether Pakistan’s half-hearted and inconsistent cooperation with the U.S. on counter-terrorism will continue. It is true that Pakistan’s government faces a threat from Islamist terrorists, including the Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces it has fought but still offers sanctuary to. It is looking to China to replace U.S. influence, and may well cut a deal with the Islamist terrorists in order to reach a ceasefire with them. Pakistan seems to be treating them more favorably than it treats the U.S., despite the billions of dollars it receives from American taxpayers.

After 9/11, President Bush told every nation of the world: “You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Pakistan didn’t take him seriously and took a middle road that it can travel no longer. Pakistan, instead of changing its ways and being apologetic, has only become more antagonistic since Bin Laden was killed in its territory. The American people are fed up.

Pakistan is under unprecedented pressure to pick a side and its choosing the side of the terrorists.

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