Mullen Visits Pakistan to Ease Tensions Over Raids
Mullen’s unscheduled trip comes as new reports emerged Tuesday that Pakistani troops have been directed to open fire if the U.S. military launches another raid along the Afghan border.
Mullen will “meet with Prime Minister (Yousaf Raza) Gilani and the chief of army staff, General (Ashfaq) Kayani, to continue the dialogue that they have been maintaining and to look for ways to work better and more closely together to eliminate the safe havens for extremists in the border region,” Navy Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said according to Reuters.
Pakistani Army Maj.-Gen. Athar Abbas said the orders were in response to U.S. helicopters ferrying troops into the territory of South Waziristan, a known Taliban stronghold, on Sept. 3.
“The orders are clear,” Abbas told the Associated Press. “In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: … open fire.”
A Pentagon spokesman later voiced confidence that Islamabad will “correct the record” on the statement.
Following reports of the Sept. 3 raid, Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said that his forces would not tolerate such incursions and would defend the country’s sovereignty “at all costs,” according to the New York Times.
Last week, the Times reported that President Bush had signed a secret order approving the deployment of U.S. forces in Pakistan without the approval of Islamabad. The administration did not deny the report.
Pakistan’s civilian leaders protested the raid but say the dispute should be resolved through diplomatic channels.
U.S. military commanders have accused Islamabad of doing too little to prevent the Taliban and other militant groups from recruiting, training and resupplying in Pakistan’s virtually lawless border lands known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Pakistan acknowledges the presence of al-Qaida fugitives and its difficulties in preventing militants from seeping through the mountainous border into Afghanistan. However, it insists it is doing all it can while paying a heavy price, pointing to its deployment of more than 100,000 troops in its increasingly violent northwest and a wave of suicide bombings across the country.
Abbas’ remarks come a day after Pakistani troops were reported to have fired shots into the air to stop U.S. troops crossing into South Waziristan. Both armies – and the Pentagon – denied the incident had occurred, but local security officials and tribesmen in South Waziristan told McClatchy Newspapers that two American helicopters had entered Pakistani airspace early Monday and were forced to retreat when they came under fire.
Earlier this month, U.S. choppers flew in commandos who assaulted a compound that housed suspected militants, in the first documented American ground raid into the tribal territory. Up to 20 people, including civilians, died in the earlier attack, enraging the Pakistani army and public.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pakistan declared its support for Washington’s war on terror and allowed a limited number of U.S. troops onto Pakistani territory during the invasion of Taliban-led Afghanistan. The move was hugely unpopular with many Pakistanis, and analysts said anti-American feeling in the mainly Muslim country of 170 million people has grown ever since.