Pakistan has threatened to retaliate in case it finds American ground troops operating on its soil, the country’s military spokesman, Major-General Athar Abbas, told the BBC on Thursday evening.
The spokesman’s remarks are in line with comments made by Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani late Wednesday, hitting out at cross-border raids by US-led coalition forces from bases in Afghanistan.
“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan,” he said in a statement.
The sharp Pakistani response to a report in The New York Times that President George W. Bush had secretly authorised ground attacks by US troops into Pakistan soil — to hunt down militants — reflect a tattered security relationship between Islamabad and Washington.
Seven years after Pervez Musharraf joined the American-led “war on terrorism” post-9/11, Washington’s patience on the Pakistani ability to deliver in the battle against extremism seems to have run out.
“President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government…” The New York Times reported, quoting senior American officials.
The “war” itself has led to a huge backlash inside Pakistan, with Islamist militants killing as many as 3,448 civilians and security personnel in 1,306 terror attacks in 2007. This is a 128 per cent increase over 2006 and nearly 500 per cent over 2005.
General Kayani, on his part, said there was no “agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border”.
He regretted the killing of civilians in the September 4 raid and said such reckless actions “only help the militants and further fuel the militancy in the area”".
Kayani argued that the trust-deficit and misunderstandings could lead to more complications and increase the difficulties for all. “The constraints of operating in these areas must never be lost sight of,” Kayani stated, adding there were no “quick fixe”" in this war.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, meanwhile, offered staunch support for Kayani's comments on Thursday. “The government had the same views as army chief on defending the country's sovereignty and integrity” Gilani said.
“The nation should not get upset by the statements of US Admiral Michael Mullen... the government will take all steps to defend the country's borders,” the prime minister added.
“Frankly, we are running out of time,”" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee recently, referring to the international effort to stabilise Afghanistan.
“I'm not convinced we're winning in Afghanistan,” he said, adding quickly, “I'm convinced we can.”
Washington, like Kabul, believes that Pakistan-based terrorists are responsible for the increase in terror attacks in Afghanistan.
With inputs from Agencies