Monday, 28 November 2011

China supports Pakistan in row over Nato border attack

China has lent diplomatic support to Pakistan, saying it is "deeply shocked" over the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers bombarded by Nato helicopters.
Beijing's support came as Afghan officials again claimed the air strikes were called in after they were first targeted from the Pakistani side of the border.
Warning of "serious consequences", the Pakistan military said the "unprovoked" attack on a border checkpoint in the Mohmand part of the tribal area on Saturday continued even after it contacted Nato to plead for the firing to stop. The military has not accepted Nato's explanation for what the coalition has called a "tragic incident". Afghan and Nato officials have insisted that they came under fire first.
The incident, which left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead, has thrown the coalition strategy in Afghanistan into crisis, with Pakistani co-operation considered vital in stabilising the country and bringing the Taliban insurgents into talks. Pakistan keeps more than 100,000 soldiers stationed along the Afghan border, supposedly in support of the coalition mission.
On Saturday, Pakistan closed the border for supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan. There is no indication when the border crossing will be reopened. Half the supplies to coalition soldiers pass by land through Pakistan, including most of the fuel supplies, using local transport companies. On Monday, the All Pakistan Oil Tanker Owners Association said it would only resume transport if Islamabad and the Pakistani military accepted an apology for the incident.
The prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said Pakistan would "revisit engagement with Nato and the International Security Assistance Force" following the casualties in Mohmand, the deadliest such incident since coalition forces entered Afghanistan in 2001.
Pakistan has suggested it may now boycott the 5 December international conference on Afghanistan's future at Bonn, in Germany.
The Pakistani foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, spoke to her Chinese opposite number, Yang Jiechi, in a "40-minute conversation in which she informed her Chinese counterpart of the extreme outrage in Pakistan on the unprovoked attacks", the foreign ministry said. It added that Yang Jiechi "expressed deep shock and strong concern", adding that "Pakistan's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected".
Islamabad considers Beijing to be its closest ally and an alternative partner to Washington and the west. China and Pakistan both oppose US plans to have bases in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 date for ending the coalition's combat operations there.
"China is deeply shocked by these events, and expresses strong concern for the victims and profound condolences to Pakistan," a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said. "China believes that Pakistan's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected and the incident should be thoroughly investigated and be handled properly."
On Monday, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference also condemned the attack on the checkpost, while over the weekend Turkey promised to raise the issue at Nato headquarters in Brussels.
There were further protests on the streets of Pakistan on Monday, including a boycott of the courts by lawyers. The striking lawyers in Karachi and Lahore chanted "Go America, go".
Nato is investigating the incident on the poorly marked border between the Afghan province of Kunar and Mohmand. Coalition and Afghan troops believe they received fire from insurgents operating from close to the Pakistani post, which is located 300 metres into Pakistani territory. Pakistan says there were no militants operating on its side.
A senior Afghan official told the Guardian that a combined Afghan-Nato squad had received incoming fire from "the so-called Pakistani post", prompting them to call for air support. "The most important point here is that they were receiving fire from the direction of that post."
The official, who did not want to be named, added: "The Pakistanis are blowing this thing totally out of proportion by responding the way they have, so severely and strongly. But we hope that they will at least come to Bonn and it will not affect the steps that we have started to take in terms or rebuilding our relationship with Pakistan."
Afghan and coalition officials have accused Pakistan repeatedly in the past of failing to act to stop Taliban militants using its territory.
Afghans living in Kunar said they were delighted by the strike against the bases, saying they believed Taliban fighters were being harboured by the Pakistani army.
"These terrorists wear civilian clothes and then when they have done their attacks in Afghanistan they go to the Pakistan checkpoints," said Qari Ehsanullah Ehsan, a tribal leader from the province. "Some of them wear fake beards and then put on Pakistani military clothes when they finish their operations. The people of Kunar are happy. We have been telling the Americans for a long time that the Pakistanis are bringing the Taliban to our villages."

by and Jon Boone
taken from

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