ISLAMABAD: An accident waiting to happen

By Farrukh Saleem
Over the past few days, Pakistani soldiers have fired shots at two Nato helicopters; Pakistani troops have exchanged fire with the soldiers of Afghan National Army (ANA) and a US military drone crashed at the village of Jalal Khel in South Waziristan. On September 3, America’s 4-year covert operation into Pakistani territory went overt when helicopter-borne US Navy SEALs raided three houses and killed some two-dozen villagers.

The United States Army has deployed Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters for covert as well as overt incursions into Pakistan and the United States Air Force (USAF) is using MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The Black Hawk is US Army’s frontline air assault and air cavalry helicopter with a service ceiling of 19,000 feet (5,790m) and is thus not vulnerable to small arms fire. The Predator is a medium-altitude, long endurance UAV with a service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620m) and cannot be brought down through small arms or anti-aircraft apparatus currently in place on the Pak-Afghan border. The Reaper is a long-endurance, high-altitude, hunter-killer UAV with a ceiling of 50,000 feet (15km). In effect, none of America’s killing machines can be brought down by whatever the tribesmen or Pakistani forces have at their command (Pakistan’s most capable anti-aircraft artillery is deployed on the eastern border).

On September 10, COAS Gen Ashfaq Kayani said that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country would be defended at “all costs”. On September 15, Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF), Lockheed-made, F-16 Fighting Falcons were sighted conducting air patrols in areas bordering Afghanistan. On September 23, President Asif Ali Zardari said that American incursions into Pakistan were a “violation of United Nations Charter”. On September 25, Robert Gates, United States Secretary of Defence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that in his view the Untied Nations Charter “allowed the US to act in self-defence against international terrorists in Pakistan if the government was unable, or unwilling to deal with them.”

Rhetoric from the US as well as Pakistani political and military leadership is becoming more and more dangerous by the day. According to Strategic Forecasting Inc., a Texas-based private intelligence agency, “Pakistani forces fired upon US military helicopters along the Afghan-Pakistani border, the Pentagon confirmed Sept 25. However, a Pentagon spokesman denied Pakistani claims that the helicopters had entered Pakistani airspace. Islamabad later claimed that only “warning shots” were fired and later insisted that only signal flares were fired to warn the helicopters off. This incident — almost a textbook border dispute, complete with each side claiming it was in the right place in an area where the precise border often is not clear, and subsequent revisions of statements — highlights the dangers of tensions as high as they are between Pakistan and the United States.”

An accident is waiting to happen: Pakistani forces might get aggressive and shot down an American helicopter not yet within Pakistan’s borders or American forces may get overly aggressive in their ‘hot pursuit’, ‘hit and withdraw’ or ‘search and destroy’ missions well within Pakistan’s territory.

Courtesy: The News, 27/9/2008

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