Pakistan holds border talks
Thursday, February 9, 2012
ISLAMABAD -- The Pakistani army held talks with NATO and Afghan forces Wednesday in an effort to improve coordination along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a sign of thawing relations after American airstrikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year.
Pakistan was outraged by the attack on two of its Afghan border posts Nov. 26 and claimed it was deliberate. Islamabad retaliated by closing its border to supplies meant for NATO troops in Afghanistan and by kicking the U.S. out of an air base used by American drones.
But tensions seemed to have eased slightly, with Pakistani officials saying recently the government should reopen its border to NATO supplies as long as it can negotiate higher fees.
The United States and Pakistan have long had a troubled relationship, but both sides have an interest in preventing it from rupturing completely. The U.S. needs Pakistan's help to fight al-Qaida and negotiate peace with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, while Islamabad is keen on keeping billions of dollars in American aid flowing.
Wednesday's meeting took place at a border coordination center in Torkham, on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Pakistani army said. The operations chief for the Pakistani army, Maj. Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem, attended, it said.
The U.S. and Pakistan disagree on who should be blamed for the incident in November, which occurred in the middle of the night as American and Afghan forces were conducting operations near the border inside Afghanistan.
The Pakistani army rejected a U.S. investigation that said mistakes were made on both sides and blamed Pakistani troops for triggering the incident by shooting at coalition forces.
Islamabad said its soldiers were shooting at Islamist militants who were nowhere near the coalition troops. It blamed U.S. forces for the incident, saying they failed to notify their Pakistani counterparts that they were conducting operations near the border.
The U.S. has said its commanders believe some of their military operations have been compromised when they've given details and locations to the Pakistanis -- an example of the lack of trust between the two countries.
The U.S. has acknowledged that efforts to determine whether there were friendly Pakistani forces in the area failed because U.S. forces used inaccurate maps, were unaware of Pakistani border post locations and mistakenly provided the wrong location for the troops.
Pakistan has dismissed these explanations and claimed the incident was "deliberate at some level." It refused to participate in the U.S. investigation, claiming past probes into border incidents were biased.
U.S. drone strikes against Taliban and al-Qaida militants in Pakistan's northwest tribal region along the Afghan border have also caused tension between the two countries.
The latest attack occurred Wednesday when U.S. drone-fired missiles hit a house in North Waziristan's Spalga village, killing nine people, including some domestic Taliban militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
President Barack Obama has ramped up drone strikes in Pakistan since taking office and acknowledged the covert CIA-run program publicly for the first time in a recent interview. But he and other U.S. officials refuse to discuss details of the operations openly.
Although the Pakistani government is widely believed to have provided support for the strikes in the past, that cooperation has become strained as its relationship with Washington has deteriorated.
But the drones have also benefited Pakistan by taking out Taliban fighters waging a bloody war against the Pakistani government. During the past two and a half months, 69 soldiers and 166 militants have been killed in fighting in the Kurram tribal area, the army said Wednesday.
The tussle with the U.S. has come at a time of domestic turmoil in Pakistan. The Supreme Court has vowed to charge Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani with contempt for failing to reopen an old corruption case against the president. If convicted, the premier could serve up to six months in jail and be disqualified from holding public office.
Gilani's lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, appealed the court's plan to charge his client on Wednesday.
A defendant can appeal a contempt charge in Pakistan before the case goes to trial.
The government has long refused a Supreme Court order to write to Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari that dates back to the late 1990s. Officials have argued that the president has immunity from prosecution while in office.
Associated Press writers Rasool Dawar in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.