KARACHI (Reuters) - Suspected militants in Pakistan set fire to more than two dozen tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, a day after three soldiers were killed in a cross-border NATO air strike.
Angered by repeated incursions by NATO helicopters over the past week, Pakistan has blocked a supply route for coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is a crucial ally for the United States in its efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, but analysts say border incursions and disruptions in NATO supplies underline growing tensions in the relationship.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official said the border incursions could lead to a “total snapping of relations.”
Senior local officials blamed “extremists” for the attack on the tankers in the southern town of Shikarpur. About 12 people, their faces covered, opened fire with small arms into the air to scare away the drivers and then set fire to 27 tankers.
“Some of them have been completely destroyed and others partially. But there is no loss of human life,” Shikarpur police chief Abdul Hameed Khoso told Reuters.
Police arrested 10 people after the attack, including five netted from a raid on an Islamic seminary, or madrassa, a senior police official said.
The tankers were parked at a filling station on their way to Afghanistan from Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi.
On Thursday, three Pakistani soldiers were killed and three wounded in two cross-border strikes by NATO forces chasing militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Kurram region.
It was the third cross-border incident in a week, the Pakistan military said. NATO said the helicopters briefly crossed into Pakistan airspace after coming under fire from people there.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan was a partner in the war against Islamist militancy but it would not allow anyone to infringe on its sovereignty.
“I want to assure the entire nation from this house that we will consider other options if there is interference in the sovereignty of our country,” Gilani told parliament without elaborating.
Hours after the cross-border attack, Pakistani authorities halted tankers carrying supplies for the NATO forces passing through the Khyber tribal region on the Afghan border.
About three-quarters of all cargo for NATO forces in Afghanistan travels through Pakistan, most of it via two main border crossings: Chaman north of Quetta in Baluchistan and Torkham at the Khyber Pass.
Another third flows into Afghanistan through the northern distribution network across Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Sensitive gear like ammunition, weapons and critical equipment is flown in.
Officials say supplies for NATO forces through Chaman continue uninterrupted.
Pakistan has again come under the international spotlight after Western intelligence sources said a militant plot to stage coordinated attacks in Europe had been disrupted by a recent upsurge in missile strikes by U.S. drones in Pakistan.
Pakistani security officials said they had no evidence of any specific terror plot being hatched in the country’s tribal areas, described as global hub of militants by the United States. Most of the recent drones strikes have taken place in the northwestern North Waziristan region.
“It’s no secret that there are terrorists from all nationalities in North Waziristan. They are Arabs, Uzbeks, Pakistani, Afghan, Chechans, German, Brits, Americans, everyone. And they are threat to us, to their own countries and to the entire world,” a senior security official said.
“But to say that we have any specific information that they were plotting attacks against this country or that country, then sir, we don’t have any concrete information or intelligence about that.”
Additional reporting by Hamid Shaikh and Zeeshan Haider; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Jonathan Thatcher