ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan is determined to defend its territorial integrity, the country’s foreign minister said on Thursday, as anger mounted over a raid by U.S.-led troops on a remote border village.
The pre-dawn helicopter-borne ground assault on the village of Angor Adda on the Afghan border on Wednesday was the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S.-led troops since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Twenty people, including women and children were killed, officials said, and a new civilian government, more sensitive to public anger than the previous government, summoned the U.S. ambassador to lodge an angry protest.
Foreign Minister Shah Memood Qureshi said the raid was a shameful violation of rules of engagement agreed with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
“We will not compromise on any violation of our sovereignty,” Qureshi told the National Assembly.
“We will defend and … we have a resolve and we have national consensus in Pakistan to defend our territorial integrity,” he said. Both houses of parliament later adopted resolutions condemning the attack.
The United States, a major source of aid to nuclear-armed Pakistan, has not officially commented on the raid but there is little, if any, doubt it was carried out by U.S. troops.
The United States says al Qaeda and Taliban militants lurk in sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border, where they orchestrate attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plot violence in the West.
Pakistan has been a close U.S. ally in the unpopular campaign against terrorism and has tens of thousands of troops battling militants but it rules out incursions by foreign troops.
There have, however, been numerous missile strikes on militants in Pakistan, most believed launched by U.S.-operated pilotless drone aircraft.
NATO’s Afghan peacekeeping force, led by a U.S. general, denied involvement. The United States leads a separate, counter-insurgency force in Afghanistan.
Asked about the raid in South Waziristan, a Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said: “I have nothing for you on those reports.” The CIA referred questions to the Pentagon.
Analysts said the raid will test ties between the allies.
“The people of Pakistan are furious,” said former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan.
“At a minimum they want an apology … and an assurance that this kind of operation will not be repeated … It could have an irreparable effect on long-term relations.”
Since the emergence of a civilian-led government after February elections, there has been growing concern that U.S. military operations were becoming more aggressive.
The number of missile attacks launched by drones has multiplied, and there had been fears U.S. forces would use helicopter gunships or put troops on the ground for “hot pursuit” or commando-style raids to destroy al Qaeda nests.
“This is what Pakistan feared,” said military affairs analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, adding she expected more U.S. strikes.
“The government has protested, there will be a lot of anger, but the situation will continue … the relationship won’t break down but there’s going to be more bitterness.”
While in the past, the government led by former president Pervez Musharraf could virtually ignore public anger, the civilian government led by the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto will feel pressure.
Asif Ali Zardari, who looks set to become president in an election by legislators on Saturday, is seen as close to the United States but ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom harbor anti-American feelings, will expect him to take a stand.
Zardari, in a commentary published in the Washington Post, repeated his determination to defeat the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan and ensure that Pakistani territory is not used for attacks into Afghanistan. He did not mention the raid.
Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said such raids risked forcing people into the arms of the militants and inciting an uprising in the tribal lands.
Khan said the raid looked like an act of U.S. desperation: “They are in election mode and apparently the Bush administration is desperate to score points.”