One day after a reported five minute exchange of fire between Pakistani and US troops along the Afghan border, Pakistani government spokesman Akram Shaheedi warned the US-led coalition forces “not to violate territorial sovereignty of Pakistan as it is counterproductive to the war on terror.” President Asif Ali Zardari described US support as a “blessing,” however the general trend appears to point to relations between the two countries continuing to deteriorate.
Tensions have grown worse since US forces began their reported “the gloves have come off” strategy of escalating unilateral attacks into Pakistan’s tribal regions earlier this month. The most dramatic event was an unprecedented attack on a small South Waziristan village by US helicopters and ground troops which officials say killed 20 civilians. Since then, the US has launched multiple air strikes into North and South Waziristan, which Secretary of Defense Robert Gates defended as necessary to “protect our troops.”
The attacks have led to anti-US protests in Waziristan and repeated warnings from Pakistani officials. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani announced that foreign forces would no longer be allowed to operate inside Pakistani territory, and Army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said forces had been ordered to retaliate against any incursions.
Since then, there have been two reported incidents of Pakistani forces opening fire on US helicopters attempting to cross the border in addition to yesterday’s brief firefight, which according to Pakistani officials also began when US helicopters strayed across the border.
The attacks have also raised the ire of tribal militias, with one large jirga in South Waziristan announcing last week that it has decided to take up arms against the American forces. There has also been increasing speculation that the US policies led to last weekend’s Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing. This view is supported by messages from the group claiming credit for the blast warning it will hit others who, like the hotel’s owner, “facilitate Americans and NATO crusaders.”
The group, which is calling itself Fedayeen Islam, is of unknown origin and has no apparent history. The name of the group appears to be a matter of some contention, however, as the Tehreek e-Taliban Pakistan has complained that they already have a subsidiary branch using the same name, and they had nothing to do with the bombings. The TTP has urged the new organization to choose a different name under which to conduct its future terror attacks.