Pakistan will ‘return fire’ if US raids again

PAKISTAN’S military has ordered its forces to open fire if US troops launch another air or ground raid across the Afghan border, an army spokesman said.

The orders — coming in response to a September 3 ground attack by US commandos — are certain to heighten tensions between the US and a key ally against terrorism. Although the attack was rare, there have been repeated reports of US drone aircraft striking militant targets, most recently on September 12.

Pakistani officials warn that stepped-up cross-border raids will accomplish little while fuelling violent religious extremism in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Some complain that the country is a scapegoat for the failure to stabilise Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s civilian leaders, who have taken a hard line against Islamic militants since forcing Pervez Musharraf to resign as president last month, have insisted that Pakistan must resolve the dispute with Washington through diplomatic channels. However, army spokesman Athar Abbas yesterday said after US helicopters ferried troops into a militant stronghold in the South Waziristan tribal region, the military told field commanders to prevent any similar raids. “The orders are clear,” he said. “In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire.”

The US accuse Islamabad of doing too little to prevent the Taliban from resupplying in Pakistan’s wild tribal belt. However, Pakistan insists it is doing what it can.

After talks yesterday in London, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari and British prime minister Gordon Brown issued a joint statement saying Afghanistan and Pakistan should lead the efforts to battle border militancy. It did not mention the US.

Meanwhile, close to 1,500 Afghan civilians were killed in the first eight months of this year, the UN said. The death toll was up 39% from the same period in 2007.

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