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NATO changes stance after warning from Pakistan

September 28, 2010

ISLAMABAD: Nato reversed its position on aerial strikes by its helicopter gunships inside Pakistan on Monday after Islamabad warned the US-led forces in Afghanistan of counter-measures.

International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which had earlier defended the aerial engagement as an action ‘under the right of self-defence’, later in the evening, according to military sources, informed Pakistani commanders that they were trying to establish that their helicopters during the operation did not cross into Pakistani territory.

Isaf spokesman Capt Ryan Donald had earlier said: “The Isaf helicopters did cross into Pakistan territory to engage the insurgents. Isaf maintains the right to self-defence, and that’s why they crossed the Pakistan border.”

The strongly-worded protest communicated by Pakistan to Nato headquarters in Brussels reminded the military alliance that its mandate for operations in Afghanistan ended at Afghan border and there were no hot pursuit rules agreed with Pakistan.

Describing the cross-border air raids as ‘violation of its sovereignty and the UN mandate for coalition operations in Afghanistan’, the protest statement issued by the Foreign Office said: “In the absence of immediate corrective measures, Pakistan will be constrained to consider response options.”

(According to AFP, Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said in the statement: “These incidents are a clear violation and breach of the UN mandate under which Isaf operates.” The statement said Isaf had been asked not to participate in any military action that violated the UN mandate and infringed upon Pakistan’s sovereignty. It said Pakistan had always emphasised the need for “coordinated and joint action” against militants.)

Military sources said the message communicated to the Nato command was crystal clear that in view of declining public support for war on terror, the security of Nato supply routes through Pakistan could be threatened in the aftermath of the new air campaign.

Analysts say Pakistan could only stop US-led forces from such violations by tactfully using its leverages that largely relate to the support for war on terror and the supply routes.

Nato was asked to coordinate its actions with Pakistan military and avoid crossing the ‘red lines’ — a euphemism for Pakistani sensitivities.

More than 50 people, many of them believed to be fighters of the Haqqani network, were killed over the past couple of days in three Nato/Isaf air strikes in Pakistani tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

Nato’s Apache helicopters were said to be ‘in hot pursuit’ of the militants crossing back into Pakistani territory to get to their sanctuaries.

The Nato attacks came after an escalation in drone strikes by the US against militant hideouts and other targets in North Waziristan, an indication that the US-led forces were changing their tactics to dismantle the militant network in the tribal region long considered to be the springboard for violence in Afghanistan.

DAWN NEWS

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