US-Pakistani Clash Fuels Anti-US Sentiment In Islamist-Controlled Border Area

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - A first-ever clash between U.S. and Pakistan forces in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area has highlighted the difference between the U.S. ally's federal government and Islamist-controlled regional authorities.

A senior official in Islamabad confirmed Thursday that a bomb had been dropped inside Pakistani territory during a weekend border clash between U.S. and Pakistani forces.

Military spokesman Major-General Rashid Qureshi said the military was investigating the incident, in which he claimed there had been no casualties.

That contradicts other reports that an American soldier was shot in the head by a Pakistani "border scout" after a U.S. patrol on Afghan territory asked him to return to the Pakistani side of the border.

The U.S. soldier, airlifted to Germany, is reported by the U.S. military to be in stable condition.

After the shooting, the Pakistani ran into an abandoned building, which was subsequently bombed by a U.S. plane. Two Pakistanis were reported to have been killed, and the offender - who survived the bombing - is in Pakistani custody.

The incident has sparked fury in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) bordering Afghanistan, whose legislature recently came under the control of a coalition of anti-U.S., pro-Taliban parties.

The regional government passed a resolution stating that Pakistan was a sovereign country and called the bombing an act of terrorism and "open interference in the internal matters of Pakistan."

The NWFP legislature demanded that Islamabad register a strong protest to Washington.

Even before the incident, anti-U.S. sentiment was running high in the province.

The Islamists who recently won power earlier vowed to block joint Pakistani-U.S. efforts to track down fugitive Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists believed to have infiltrated the area after fleeing the fighting in Afghanistan.

The newly formed Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) coalition is a grouping of six parties that campaigned on a platform of expelling U.S. soldiers and intelligence agents involved in the mission.

Pakistan, a former ally of the Taliban, is a close U.S. ally in the war on terror, and President Pervez Musharraf has allowed U.S. forces to use airbases and other military facilities during the post-Sept. 11 campaign.

Analyst Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi said Thursday that the incident by itself did not constitute a major crisis in relations between the two governments, as "frictional confrontations" between allied forces did happen from time to time.

"Nevertheless, the incident is symptomatic of a deeper malaise - a fundamental conflict of interests and underlying ideologies between the two nations," he said.

Sahni said U.S. forces on the ground were clearly growing impatient over Pakistan's "duplicity."

They were also, he suggested, "increasingly resentful of the visible support and accommodation that the al-Qaeda and Taliban survivors are receiving on Pakistani soil."

Indian strategic analyst Rajeev Sharma saw in the incident signs that Musharraf's grip on the army and intelligence service was weakening, while Raghu Chandra, a researcher at Nehru University in New Delhi, said it may signal the beginning of the end of U.S.-Pakistan cooperation against terrorism.

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