NATO steps up Taliban attacks along Pakistan-Afghanistan border

Increased strikes are causing friction between the US and Pakistani government, which prefers to negotiate with the militants

In the latest incident to spell trouble on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, suspected Taliban militants attacked check posts, kidnapped Pakistani policemen, and blew up oil tankers destined for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

In retaliation, NATO forces are stepping up attacks inside Pakistan, causing friction with Pakistan's new government, which hopes to negotiate peace with the militants.

For more than a year, Taliban militants have regrouped along Pakistan's border region, where the Pakistani state's presence is weak, and used it as a staging ground to launch attacks against both US and allied troops in Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan's government. Tuesday's violence was the latest in a series to target that border, reports Agence France-Presse.

Suspected Taliban rebels kidnapped 17 tribal policemen near Pakistan's Khyber pass, police said Monday, the latest incident on the main supply route for international forces in Afghanistan.
Armed men attacked four checkposts on Sunday in the troubled region, where militants blew up 36 tankers bringing fuel for US and NATO troops across the border in March, wounding 100 people.
The security of the route has been under scrutiny since the US-led coalition reported that four helicopter engines worth 13 million dollars had gone missing in April while being transported by a Pakistani haulage firm.

Pakistan's leading English-language newspaper, Dawn, adds:

The 35km-long Peshawar-Torkham highway, the main supply route for international forces in Afghanistan, has become insecure after the kidnapping of Pakistan's Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin, his driver and guard on Feb 11.
Several militant groups have intensified their patrolling of the route and last week they threatened to disrupt oil and aid supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Forty-two tankers carrying fuel for US and NATO forces were blown up near Torkham on March 23, two World Food Programme officials were kidnapped on April 21 and an army vehicle was targeted with a remote-controlled bomb on May 20.

The escalating violence has prompted US-led coalition forces to step up attacks along Pakistan's border, and even inside Pakistani territory, The New York Times reports.

NATO forces in Afghanistan shelled guerrillas in Pakistan in two separate episodes on Sunday, as escalating insurgent violence appeared to be eroding the alliance's restraint along the border....
The firing by NATO forces into Pakistani territory followed an American airstrike on a Pakistani border post earlier this month that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistani government denounced the strike, and the American government expressed regret, but it is still not entirely clear what happened.

The latest NATO strike to occur on Afghan soil on Tuesday also implicates Pakistan. The strike, which occurred in the eastern province of Paktia, near the border with Pakistan, killed 15 militants, allegedly including Pakistani nationals, reports Agence France-Presse.

Insurgents opened fire on the headquarters of the province's Sayed Karam district but were driven away after a gunbattle which caused slight damage to the building, provincial government spokesman Rohullah Samoon said.
"NATO helicopters then bombed the militants and killed 14 militants on the spot. Our policemen arrested another four wounded, and one of the wounded also died in hospital," Samoon told AFP....
"The three arrested terrorists have told police that most of the 15 Taliban killed in the air strike were Pakistani nationals and some of them from Arab countries," he said.

The New York Times adds that NATO is increasingly concerned about the Taliban's ability to use Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks.

American and Afghan officials say the surging violence in Afghanistan is in large part caused by the sanctuaries that militants enjoy in Pakistan. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have assembled in Pakistan, most of them in the area along the remote and mountainous frontier where the government exercises no authority.

NATO's controversial attacks come as Pakistan's new government, since taking office in February, has struggled to negotiate a series of peace deals with the Taliban rather than fight them.

An opinion piece in the Pakistani daily The News suggests that local observers now worry that the US administration and Pakistan's new government no longer agree on the best approach for tackling Taliban presence in the region.

The cracks in the relationship are beginning to show, now more than ever. It is becoming increasingly apparent that America and Pakistan are failing to see eye to eye on many critical strategic matters on how to conduct this war.
While Pakistan is increasingly proffering reasons to choose dialogue over military operation in dealing with the militants, America, with its fetish for warfare, seems to have stepped up its military operations, to the point where it matters little if in the process it is overriding the sovereignty of its most important ally, or even killing its people.

Observers from afar are also counseling Washington to allow Pakistan's new government to steer its own course in tackling militancy. An editorial this week in Lebanon's leading English language daily, The Daily Star, admonishes:

It is critical for the US to recognize that the priority of the Pakistani government should be to first bring peace and stability within its own borders. If the new leadership is seen to place the interests of the United States before its own, it will experience the same legitimacy problems President Pervez Musharraf faced. This will undermine Pakistan's democratic transition, creating instability in the country and the region.
If negotiations fail because of militant uprisings, Pakistanis will support the use of force knowing all other channels were exhausted. This will lead to greater public ownership of the fight against extremism, something the United States has called for.
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