Pakistan rejects NATO regrets

Pakistan rejects NATO statement of regret on the raid that killed 24 Pakistani troops. While Kabul says the raid came after a Pakistan attack, Islamabad has denied the accusations, warning of dire results on Afghan ties

Pakistan yesterday denied provoking NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and refused to accept expressions of regret over the cross-border attack that has inflamed U.S.-Pakistani ties.

NATO and the United States sought to limit the fallout from Nov. 26’s attack, which has seen Pakistan close vital supply routes to the 140,000 foreign troops serving in Afghanistan and order a review of its U.S. alliance. The crisis erupted months after the fraught U.S.-Pakistan alliance was plunged to its lowest point in years by the killing in May of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. But few questions have been answered about what exactly happened, following reports that Pakistani soldiers opened fire first on U.S. and Afghan forces. The Wall Street Journal, following a similar report by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, cited three Afghan officials and one Western official as saying the air raid was called in to shield allied forces targeting Taliban fighters.

NATO and Afghan forces “were fired on from a Pakistani army base,” the unnamed Western official told the Journal. “It was a defensive action.” An Afghan official said the government in Kabul believes the fire came from the Pakistani military base -- and not from insurgents in the area. An Afghan border police commander said NATO troops hardly ever open fire unless they are attacked.

‘We asked for ceasefire’

Pakistan insists the attack was “unprovoked.” “This is not true. They are making up excuses. And by the way, what are their losses, casualties?” Major General Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s chief military spokesman, wrote to Agence France-Presse. He said the attack lasted almost two hours and that commanders had contacted NATO counterparts while it was going on, asking “they get this fire to cease, but somehow it continued,” Associated Press reported.

Asked about expressions of regret by NATO he said: “We do not accept it because such kind of attacks have been taking place in the past...” He told Pakistani television channel Geo that 72 Pakistani soldiers have been killed and 250 wounded by fire from across the Afghan border over the last three years. In retaliation, Islamabad has blocked NATO convoys from crossing into Afghanistan, ordered a review of its alliance with the U.S. and is mulling whether to boycott a key conference on Afghanistan next month. NATO says that for now its troops would not be affected by the disruption to supply routes though some 48 percent of all coalition cargo usually passes through two points on the Pakistan border. Abbas also said the attack could hurt cooperation on Afghanistan. “This could have serious consequences in the level and extent of our cooperation,” Abbas told Reuters.

Meanwhile, China said it was “deeply shocked” by the incident and called for an investigation while German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle telephoned Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to express support and solidarity with the people and government of Pakistan.