By Qasim Nauman andÂ Chris Allbritton
(Reuters) – Pakistan’s commanders in the wild Afghan border region can return fire if attacked without waiting for permission, the army chief said, a change in rules of engagement that could stoke tension after Saturday’s NATO strike killed 24 Pakistani troops.
The attack sparked fury in Pakistan and further complicated U.S.-led efforts to ease a crisis in relations with Islamabad, still seething at a secret U.S. raid in May which killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and stabilize the region before foreign combat troops leaveÂ AfghanistanÂ in 2014.
“I do not want there to be any doubt in the minds of any commander at any level about the rules of engagement,” Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani said in a communique on Friday.
“In case of any attack, you have complete liberty to respond forcefully using all available resources. You do not need any permission for this.”
A military source explained that this amounted to a change in the rules for Pakistani forces guarding the Western border against militant movements to and from Afghanistan.
“In the past, we were only guarding ourselves or reacting against militants,” said the source, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
“We have given our posts some more space to respond. If they are under attack, they should not wait for orders from above on whether to return fire or not.”
The increase in autonomy for local commanders is likely to raise tensions in the unruly and mountainous border region, which is porous and poorly marked. Militants and tribespeople alike move back and forth daily.
“There are certain inherent risks in the delegation of authority,” said defense analyst and retired general Talat Masood. “There could be unintended consequences.”
To read more, visit:Â http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/02/us-islamabad-idUSTRE7B00UH20111202
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