Angered by U.S. raids into Pakistan in search of terrorists, Pakistan's new president warned Thursday that his country can't let its territory “be violated by our friends.”
His speech at the U.N. General Assembly, which often emotionally described Pakistan's battle against terrorists, comes at a tense moment in U.S.-Pakistan relations.
Pakistani soldiers fired at U.S. reconnaissance helicopters along the Pakistan-Afghan border Thursday, officials said, sparking a ground battle between American and Pakistani soldiers.
After displaying a picture of his assassinated wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, President Asif Ali Zardari told world leaders such attacks strengthen the extremists the U.S. and others seek to destroy.
“Just as we will not let Pakistan's territory to be used by terrorists for attacks against our people and our neighbors, we cannot allow our territory and our sovereignty to be violated by our friends,” Zardari said.
“Unilateral actions of great powers should not inflame the passions of allies,” he said.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is deemed crucial to U.S.-led efforts to battle extremists in South Asia.
The U.S. has pushed Pakistan to crack down on extremists using the border region with Afghanistan as a safe haven, and has stepped up attacks on suspected militants in Pakistan's frontier area, mostly by missiles fired from unmanned drones operating from Afghanistan.
But the unilateral incursions — especially a ground raid into South Waziristan by American commandos Sept. 3 — have infuriated Pakistanis already wary of their country's ties to the U.S. and have strained ties between Washington and Zardari's new government.
Pakistan's military has won American praise for a recent offensive against militants. Many in Washington, however, say Pakistan has not done enough with the billions in aid the U.S. has provided to fight terrorists.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians, Zardari said, have died fighting terrorists. “We have lost more soldiers than all 37 countries that have forces in Afghanistan put together,” he said. “We have fought this battle largely alone.”
Zardari is president of a democratic, civilian government that replaced Pervez Musharraf, a strong U.S. ally and former general who took power in a 1999 coup.
The Bush administration once championed Musharraf as “indispensable.” But the U.S. began distancing itself from Musharraf after the election of the civilian government in February and has been careful to signal support for Zardari's rise to power.
In the gunfire exchange Thursday, two American reconnaissance helicopters were on a routine afternoon patrol in the eastern province of Khost when they received small-arms fire from a Pakistani border post, said Tech Sgt. Kevin Wallace, a U.S. military spokesman. There was no damage to aircraft or crew, officials said.
U.S. Central Command spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith said Pakistani and American ground troops exchanged fire after Pakistani forces shot at the helicopters.
He said a joint patrol of U.S. and Afghan border police was moving about a mile and a half inside Afghanistan with the helicopters above them. The ground troops reported that Pakistani forces fired toward the helicopters and when they saw that happen, they fired off suppression rounds toward the hilltop.
No injuries were reported.