ISLAMABAD, Sept 4: Outraged by the deadly first known ground assault into Pakistan’s tribal belt by US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, both houses of parliament on Thursday unanimously asked the government to take measures to “repel such attacks in the future with full force”.
After fiery debates over Wednesday’s pre-dawn helicopter-borne raid that reportedly killed at least 20 people in a village in South Waziristan agency, the demand was made in a resolution passed unanimously by the National Assembly and the Senate separately that also wanted the government to tell the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan that such violations were “bound to force fundamental changes of foreign policy” by a key ally in the so-called war on terrorism.
This was the strongest-worded joint stance to date by both treasury and opposition benches in Pakistan’s parliament over any of the numerous alleged violations of the Pakistani territory by the coalition forces hunting Al Qaeda and Taliban militants and came at a sensitive time two days before the presidential election.
“The house calls upon the government of Pakistan to take all necessary measures to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and repel such attacks in the future with full force,” the resolution said about what Pakistan says was the coalition forces’ first ground assault into the area after three helicopters brought troops to a village near the well-known militant stronghold of Angoor Adda to target some houses.
Both Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the National Assembly and leader of house Raza Rabbani in the Senate said in their prepared remarks before tabling the resolution in their respective chambers that the attacks “constitutes a serious escalation in the series of actions by the Isaf/coalition forces on Pakistani territory”.
Most of the previous attacks had involved rocketing by jets or pilotless predators or artillery shelling from across the border.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: The foreign minister told the National Assembly that Wednesday’s raid, which drew renewed opposition calls for a review of Pakistan’s role in the anti-terror war, was in violation of what he called “established rules of engagement” as well as of “international human norms” and the UN charter.
But he did not explain “the rules of
engagement” that Pakistan might have agreed with the coalition forces in Afghanistan despite a demand from the main PML-N speaker in the National Assembly Ahsan Iqbal who, like several other members, called for a detailed debate in parliament on the situation. A report by the US-based Associated Press news agency said the circumstances surrounding Wednesday’s raid were not clear, “but US rules of engagement allow American troops to chase militants across the border into Pakistan’s lawless tribal region when they are attacked” and that “they may only go about six miles on the ground under normal circumstances” and 10 miles into Pakistani airspace through aircraft.
Both the house, which took up the issue almost simultaneously, resounded with rhetoric and anti-American sentiment, mostly from opposition parties such as the Jamaat-i-Islami and the PML-N, while some in a mainly lawyers’ crowd who protested outside the parliament house against non-restoration of the deposed superior court judges also chanted “America ka jo yar hai, ghaddar hai, ghaddar hai” (whoever is friend of America is a traitor).
ZARDARI JOINS CHORUS: PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, who seems assured of being elected as the country’s president by a parliamentary electoral college on Saturday, joined the chorus with a strong statement condemning what he called an “outrageous and unacceptable violation of the territorial integrity of the country” and calling for a thorough investigation and adoption of “foolproof measures so that such incidents do not occur in the future”.
He said that for the fight against militancy to succeed, it was imperative that any action on the Pakistani side of the border was taken “only by Pakistani forces and not by the coalition forces in violation of Pakistan’s territorial integrity”.
But in the midst of the general rhetorical fervour in the two houses of parliament, some took courage to differ, like Senator Abdul Rahim Mandokhel of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party who said it were foreign militants, including Arabs, Uzbeks and Chechen, who had captured Pakistani territory and compromised the country’s sovereignty which “the government cannot defend” and accused unspecified politicians of conniving with them by not speaking against them.
Balochistan National Party Senator Abdul Malik doubted the seriousness of anti-American talk while the country was “in the grip of American imperialism for the past 60 years” and said it must be acknowledged that Pakistan’s “investment in Afghanistan to make it our fifth province” and also in Kashmir had gone in loss.
Senator Khurshid Ahmed of the Jamaat-i-Islami said that mere verbal condemnations of border violations were not enough and that violators, whether troops or helicopters, must be shot.PML-N’s Senator Ishaq Dar accused former president Pervez Musharraf of making a slave of an atomic power and said “we have to change the slavish mentality” so there be no foreign stake-holder in Pakistani affairs.
“We will not tolerate incidents like this,” said Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali Khan, who also called for an in-camera debate in parliament.