Pakistan condemned an air attack that killed 11 members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, including an officer on its border with Afghanistan in Mohmand Agency. There were conflicting reports but it seems that American drones bombarded the area, targeting Afghan rebels.
A Pakistani man injured by a US air strike in Mohmand Agency
The incident is the worst of its kind since American operations against the Taliban started in 2001. In unusually harsh language, a Pakistan army statement condemned “this completely unprovoked and cowardly act", and said that the incident had “hit at the very basis of cooperation and sacrifice with which Pakistani soldiers are supporting the coalition in the war against terror".
Boris Wilke, a Pakistan expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, saw it less dramatically: “Today’s events seem to fall into a kind of test category -- where the limits to which a conflict can be escalated, on both sides, and also verbally, are tested.”
There definitely is a conflict. The new Pakistani government wants to engage Taliban militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan in talks instead of fighting them. However, the US government is very concerned about this strategy, as it believes the tribal areas will become even more of a safe haven for militants fighting against the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.
Contradictory signals from the centre
“The war against terror is extremely unpopular all over Pakistan -- it has hardly any support,” explained Boris Wilke. “And the signals coming from the new government are contradictory. On the one hand, they say they want to make it their own fight. On the other, they have used such harsh words to criticize the way it has been waged over the last few years that it is completely unclear how this fight can continue.”
Recently, there have been several alleged attacks by unmanned US drones on Pakistani territory. In Pakistan, many believe that the Americans are systematically trying to sabotage peace talks with the Taliban in the tribal areas.
“It always happens like this: Whenever the talks are about 60-70 percent successful, this kind of thing gets in between,” complained Engineer Shaukatullah, a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly from the tribal Bajaur Agency.
Controversial US role
American influence is a very controversial issue in Pakistani politics. Many observers believe the US make and break governments at will. Boris Wilke takes a more cautious view: “It was clear when they tried to install Benazir Bhutto as prime minister and force her into a coalition with Musharraf that this type of influence is very restricted.”
“The balance of power can be momentarily changed in certain situations, but these kinds of policies cannot be successful in terms of establishing stable structures and institutions.”
Sooner or later, the Americans and Pakistanis will have to sit down together and develop a common strategy for the border areas and Afghanistan itself. For neither side is conflict a long-term option. But the tensions might drag on until a new president has been elected in Washington.