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ISPR chief downplays report about orders given to forces

September 17, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Sept 16: The army has ordered its forces to fire on US troops if they carry out another raid from across the Afghan border.

An army spokesman said on Tuesday that field commanders had been asked to prevent any further raid after US helicopters recently ferried troops into the South Waziristan tribal region.

ISPR director-general Maj-Gen Athar Abbas was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: “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.”

But talking to Dawn, Maj-Gen Abbas downplayed the report and said there was nothing new about it. “Our policy is that we reserve the right to defend our soldiers and people against any incursion from across the border.”

He said he had been quoted out of context by the AP. He said he had been asked how would Pakistan retaliate. The answer was that it would be done by engaging those who violated the sovereignty of the country.

He said that the engagement would mean opening fire if a similar raid was carried out.

When asked if the retaliation did not mean opening fire, he said that would depend on the situation, adding that a decision would have to be taken by the respective commanders. Although the prime minister and the army chief have been saying that the government and the army had similar position on the question of foreign incursions, observers point out dissimilarities in their stance. While the army chief rejected the US claim that it had the right to conduct raids inside Pakistan and declared that no more incursions would be allowed in future, the prime minister said the issue would be resolved through diplomatic channels and stressed that Pakistan could not afford a war with the United States.

According to the AP report, the orders to retaliate, which came in the wake of an unusual Sept 3 ground attack by US commandos in Waziristan, are certain to heighten tensions between the US and its key ally in war against terrorism.

Although the ground attack was rare, there have been repeated reports of US drone aircraft striking militant targets inside Pakistan.

Pakistani officials warn that stepped-up cross-border raids will not help and fuel militancy in the region. Some complain that the country is a scapegoat for the failure to stabilise Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s new civilian leaders, who have taken a hard line against militants since forcing Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf to resign as president last month, have insisted that Pakistan must resolve the dispute with Washington through diplomatic channels.

Maj-Gen Abbas, according to the AP report, said that Pakistan’s military had asked for an explanation about the Sept 3 incursion but received only a ‘half page’ of ‘very vague’ information that failed to identify the intended target.

Officials said the raid had killed about 15 people. Maj-Gen Abbas said they all appeared to be civilians. “These were truck drivers, local traders and their families.”

He did not say when the orders to fire on US troops were issued. He also did not say whether Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani personally took the decision or it had been discussed with American officials.

The ISPR spokesman also played down suggestions that the instructions had been put into