By ANITA JOSHUA
Pakistan on Tuesday remained outwardly unfazed by a New York Times report suggesting senior American military commanders in Afghanistan were pushing for an expansion of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Without commenting on the veracity of the report, Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said: “The U.S. knows our position and redlines. We do not expect the U.S. to complicate matters involving counter-terrorism.” Maintaining that Pakistani security forces were capable of handling terrorists and militants, he said, “There is no question of allowing foreign troops inside Pakistan”.
As for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan trying to extend its operations to Pakistan, Mr. Basit said it had no such mandate. “We will not accept violation of our sovereignty.”
Part of the reason for Pakistan’s quiet response to the report is the way it made NATO sweat in October after a couple of ISAF helicopters intruded Pakistani airspace and killed Frontier Corps personnel positioned along the Afghanistan border. Islamabad closed its border with Afghanistan for ISAF supply trucks resulting in a blockade and an apology from NATO and the U.S. Pakistan is a major supply route for non-military cargo for ISAF. Having successfully communicated its position to NATO in that instance, Islamabad appears confident ISAF will not attempt another such misadventure in a hurry however desperate the U.S. may be to begin troop withdrawal from Afghanistan from July 2011.
The U.S. wants Pakistan to begin operations in North Waziristan as sanitising this “safe haven” of terrorists is seen as crucial to the success of the Global War on Terror. But on-record briefings by the American civil and military leadership in recent days suggest Washington has accepted Islamabad’s contention that it will do so at a time of its choosing.
While the Pakistan government has till now maintained that a final decision on when to launch operations in North Waziristan would be taken by the military, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was recently quoted by the media as saying the last call would be of the civilian administration.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported from Kabul that NATO had denied the NYT report. U.S. Rear-Admiral Gregory Smith, NATO’s deputy chief of communications, was quoted saying ISAF and its Afghan partners had developed a strong working relationship with the Pakistani military to address shared security issues. “This coordination recognises the sovereignty of Afghanistan and Pakistan to pursue insurgents and terrorists operative in respective border areas.”