Peshawar - "Enough is enough. Pakistan should respond aggressively to these unprovoked and unwarranted NATO air strikes," says local shopkeeper Muhammad Omar. Public anger is boiling over as the Pakistani government takes tough action to cut supplies and other support to NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The attack Saturday by helicopters from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on Pakistani border posts in Mohmand tribal region along Afghanistan’s border has elicited a barrage of protests in the Pakistani population against NATO - that most people equate with the U.S.
"The attack will inflame hatred among the army and the people against the U.S.," said Muhammad Haroon, 30, a history teacher at the Sir Syed Public School in Hayatabad township in Peshawar. But he says the Pakistan government should first set its own house in order to build strong national consensus over the issue and present its case to the international community.
The army had only recently started to gain the confidence of the local population, and that had helped clear away most troublemakers, Haroon said. "This would put the successes achieved against Taliban since the launch of the war against terror in 2002, in reverse gear. The U.S. is only making matters worse for itself and Pakistan."
Anger is rising among Pakistani soldiers who believe they are fighting for the U.S. - and then being attacked by it.
"Initially, we thought that the attackers were Taliban and we took positions to retaliate, but then saw that at least four helicopters were shelling from above," Amirzeb 23, a soldier who suffered abdominal wounds in the attacks, told IPS.
Amirzeb who is being treated at the Combined Military Hospital Peshawar along with 14 other injured soldiers, said they never expected NATO to attack them. "The unprovoked attack surprised us. At one point we thought that NATO's helicopters were being piloted by Taliban", he said.
Local officials said that helicopters attacked two remote border posts in Salala in the Baizai sub-district of Mohmand late Friday night, about 50 km to the west of the regional headquarters at Ghallanai.
The posts manned by regular forces of the Pakistan Army had been set up to check militants’ infiltration from across the border.
Assurances by NATO that they are investigating have made little difference. In past attacks nobody was held responsible.
"The rulers should not soften their stand towards the U.S as there’s no letup in the incursions by NATO and Afghan forces from across the border," Ajmal Hussain, a local journalist in violence-battered Bajaur Agency told IPS over telephone. Bajaur is one of seven tribal agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) near the Afghan border.
There is growing anger across the political spectrum. "Pakistan has sacrificed 35,000 people including 5,000 soldiers in the U.S.-led war against terrorism. The U.S. has no respect for our sacrifices. The soldiers who are fighting the American war on their own soil should be rewarded for their bravery rather than getting killed," Arbab Asmatullah Khan from the Tehreek-e-Insaaf party of the cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan told IPS.
The problem is rooted in cowardly and corrupt rulers within Pakistan, he said. Many in Pakistan today criticise the Pakistani government as much as the U.S. and NATO.
"The time is ripe for Pakistan to part ways with the U.S in the war against terror because NATO and the U.S. don’t recognise our efforts and losses," said Islam Gul, a student at the international relations department of the University of Peshawar.
"Pakistan should not fear the U.S. and should stop all its cooperation. Once Pakistan withdraws its support from the U.S., suicide and bomb attacks would not occur," said local resident Khushee Akhtar.
"We are not going to spare the government over this attack," Ghufranullah, a teacher at the political science department at the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan told IPS. "If we ignore this incident, we would not be able to safeguard the country’s frontiers in future."
Jamaat Islami, a religious group, took out a protest demonstration Saturday in which it asked the government to show some teeth to the U.S.
"Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are of no use if it cannot defend its soldiers. The U.S. should be taught a lesson so it could stay away from such attacks which are illegitimate according to the United Nations’ charter," local lawyer Israrullah told the protesting workers.
"Pakistan should follow Iran’s foreign policy to keep its own population secure against internal and external threats. This puppet government is responsible for the killing of people and soldiers," said, Tahir Shah, lecturer at a local college. "We take dictation from the U.S. on every small and big matter and the result is humiliation and disgrace in the shape of attacks on our forces."