– Pakistan permanently closes borders to Nato after air strike (Telegraph, Nov. 28, 2011):
Pakistan has permanently closed its borders to Nato convoys supplying international troops in Afghanistan, according to the country’s interior minister, following an air strike that killed 24 soldiers at the weekend.
The announcement came as the Pakistan army claimed the attack lasted almost two hours and continued even after commanders at the bases pleaded with coalition forces to stop.
Closing the crossings will choke off almost half of all supplies destined for the Nato-led force — including British troops.
Accounts still differ about what happened in the early hours of Saturday when American aircraft attacked two border posts inside Pakistan.
But the fallout is clear: a deep diplomatic crisis threatening co-operation against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.
Pakistan immediately shut its borders to convoys taking fuel and supplies to forces in Afghanistan and says it is reviewing all military and diplomatic ties with the US and Nato.
Last year the main crossing between the two countries was shut for 11 days but reopened when the US apologised for an attack that killed two Pakistani personnel.
This time, Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, said the closure was permanent.
“Nato forces should respect the feelings of the Pakistani nation,” he told reporters in Islamabad, adding that trucks and tankers already in the country would not be allowed to continue their journeys.
Although the US is transporting more and more of its equipment, food and fuel through Central Asia in an attempt to reduce Pakistani leverage, the route through Karachi still accounts for 49% of supplies destined for the 140,000-strong foreign force.
The Pakistan route is cheaper and shorter but officials with the Nato-led force have played down the impact of closing the road.
Lieutenant Gregory Keeley, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul insisted: “ISAF uses a vast supply and distribution network to ensure coalition forces remain well-stocked in order to carry out their assigned mission across Afghanistan.” Both sides have blamed each other for the tragedy.
Western and Afghan officials in Kabul say the raid was launched in response to firing that came from the Pakistani side of the border.
Pakistani soldiers wounded in the attack have told The Daily Telegraph, however, there was no militant activity in the area and the attack was unprovoked.
On Monday, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas¸ Army spokesman¸ confirmed their account saying the troops were the victims of an unprovoked aggression.
He said the attack lasted almost two hours and that commanders had contacted Nato counterparts while it was going on, asking that “they get this fire to cease, but somehow it continued”.
The attack was condemned yesterday by China, a country which Pakistan increasingly sees as its closest friend.
“China is deeply shocked at the incident and expresses strong concerns and deep condolences to the victims in Pakistan,” said Hong Lei, foreign ministry spokesman.
The escalating crisis has also scuppered plans for the first cricket match between a touring British Army team and a Pakistani military XI.
It had been hoped that the one day fixture and a 20-20 game, due to be played this week, would foster closer relations between the two countries.
However, a Pakistani military official said the home players felt they could not take to the field so soon after their colleagues had been killed.
A spokesman for the British High Commission in Islamabad said: “There was a match to be due to be played between the British Army team and the Pakistani Army cricket team but it was mutually agreed that this was not the time to hold the match.”