ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The United States did not inform Pakistan about a missile strike on militants hours after the top U.S. military officer said the United States would respect Pakistan’s sovereignty, Pakistan’s foreign minister said.
The United States, frustrated by an intensifying Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, has stepped up attacks on militants in Pakistan with six missile attacks by pilotless drones and a helicopter-borne ground assault this month.
U.S. officials say Taliban and al Qaeda-linked fighters use ethnic Pashtun tribal regions on the Pakistani side of the border as a springboard for attacks into Afghanistan.
But the U.S. attacks have infuriated many in Pakistan, which is also battling al Qaeda and Taliban militants, and the army has vowed to stand up to aggression across the border.
The latest missile strike, on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border on Wednesday evening, killed five militants and was the result of better U.S.-Pakistani intelligence sharing, a Pakistani official said earlier.
But Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a briefing on Thursday the United States had not warned Pakistan about the attack in advance.
“We were not informed,” Qureshi said.
Hours before the strike, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured army commander General Ashfaq Kayani and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani that the United States would respect Pakistan’s sovereignty.
“If having said that, there was an attack later in the night, that means there is some sort of institutional disconnect on their side and if so, they will have to sort it out,” Qureshi said.
Such attacks would not improve the situation and were unproductive, he said.
The Wednesday evening attack was on a container loaded with ammunition and explosives, a Pakistani official said.
Four missiles were fired by a drone at a tented camp. Three of the dead were Arabs, said a Pakistani intelligence officer who declined to be identified.
Pakistan’s new government has promised support for the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy even though the campaign is deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis.
The anger over the incursions and tension with the United States compounded worry on Pakistan’s financial markets.
The rupee weakened to a record low of 77.72 to the dollar on Thursday because of the global financial crisis and concern about tension with the United States, dealers said.
The prospect of strained relations with Pakistan’s largest bilateral donor was unsettling given the need to build foreign currency reserves, they said.
Under former president Pervez Musharraf there was an agreement that the United States could fire missiles at militant targets as long as it informed Pakistan in advance.
But there was believed to have been no agreement on incursions by U.S. ground troops, as happened on September 3 in the South Waziristan region.
“It is a big concern to us … why are the rules of engagement not being respected,” Qureshi said.
U.S. President George W. Bush approved the September 3 assault in South Waziristan without Islamabad’s permission as part of a presidential order on covert operations, officials and sources familiar with the matter in Washington said.
But officials and analysts said the Bush administration was unlikely to use commando raids as a common tactic against militant havens in Pakistan because of the high-stake risks to U.S. policy in the region.
Mullen said this month he was not convinced Western forces were winning in Afghanistan and he was “looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy” that would cover both sides of the border, including Pakistan’s tribal areas.