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Pakistan and the US exchange gunfire at the border

At the border with Afghanistan actually. There is an under-current of simmering tension between the United States and Pakistan, and this firing incident between the forces may be a grave portent for what may happen in the future as well. What actually happened ? It depends on whom you believe, but there were 2 US helicopters near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (over it and in Pakistan, if you believe the Pakistani side). Pakistani troops shot at the helicopters (shot at them with flares in order to tell them that they were over the border, as per Asif Zardari, the President of Pakistan). These helicopters were actually covering a troop of US and Afghanistani forces that were patrolling the border, and these troops then fired at the Pakistani side in retaliation, who then fired back. It was supposedly over in 5 minutes, but you can be sure that the repercussions of this incident will not be over in 5 minutes:

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari lashed out at the United States after their troops traded gunfire sparked by claims Pakistan forces shot at two US helicopters for alleged violation of airspace on the border with Afghanistan. “Just as we will not let Pakistani’s territory to be used by terrorists for attacks against our people and our neighbors, we cannot allow our territory and our sovereignty to be violated by our friends,” he said without citing the United States or the border flareup. “Unilateral actions of great powers should not inflame the passion of allies,” he further said, cautioning that any cross border raids could be counterproductive.

But a State Department spokesman earlier said Washington wanted an explanation from Pakistan, commenting that “the Taliban are not flying helicopters.” “We have been in touch with the Pakistanis about this and we certainly want to have an explanation,” the spokesman said.
A US official told AFP recently that Washington was frustrated with “delays and sometimes non-answers” from Islamabad regarding “actionable intelligence” on militant movements in the tribal areas in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants were believed to be hiding.

This is a natural step up in the series of incidents that have been escalating over the past few months, tremendously fraying the relationship between the United States and Pakistan. It has been an open secret that sections of the Pakistani military have been supporting the Taleban, and the previous Pakistani administration of Musharraf and the military were unwilling to do all they can to get rid of the support to the Taleban from their side (even if these same elements caused much trouble to them inside Pakistan). Reports started appearing in the US media about how the Bush administration is having second thoughts about whether Pakistan really wants to get rid of the terrorism within its borders, and then when the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul happened, the press was all over about how the US wants Pakistan to weed out the elements of the ISI that support terrorism and is no longer willing to believe everything that Islamabad says.
The Pakistanis, under US pressure, have been letting drones into Pakistani territory and attack suspected terrorist hide-outs over there through missiles launched from these drones. However, when President Bush decided in July that rules have changed, and that the US will even attack inside Pakistani territory, this rattled Pakistan. After all, how can a Government allow its sovereign territory to be invaded by foreign forces without permission, and the Government cannot even think about being able to justify this internally. Already there is wide-spread anti-American feeling inside Pakistan. It would seem that General Kiyani, the Pakistani Army is fully behind the push to make sure that American forces cannot come inside Pakistan. Of course, since he is perceived to be not favoring President Zardari, what better way to embarrass him than to create an incident when Zardari is visiting the US and will not be able to explain things.
What the Pakistani Government (including the Army Chief) may not have fully accounted for is the feelings that remain regarding September 11th. No US Government can afford to not be taking action when there are elements of terrorism at large and have been behind the past major attack. With the US being a country where a lot of the pressure happens through the media, there is an incredible amount of push towards making sure that Pakistan cleans up the terrorism in its backyard and gives up the policy of being state sponsors of terrorism. It has already been mentioned in the US campaign as well, and another such incident of firing could quickly escalate the political heat (currently the politicians are pre-occupied in scoring political points with respect to saving the economy). In addition, the Pakistani military gets a good source of funding from the US, and Congress is likely to put more pressure on linking that to showing a determination to get rid of terrorism.

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