The details of the tragic incident are not fully known, but the tone of seething anger in Pakistan says it all; the death of 24 soldiers manning the Salalah posts in the Mohmand Agency has landed a near mortal blow to the already limping cooperation between US and Pakistan. Even before it happened, the Pak-US relations were in tatters. In January this year, the Raymond Davis affair literally shot into focus the roughshod manner in which the CIA was running amok in the country; blatantly using the skimpy cover of diplomatic immunity. In May, the Abbottabad incursion by the US Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden blew any leftover US pretence claiming respect for the countrys sovereignty. Now it is the blood of Pakistani soldiers that has to be accounted for by the US and the excruciating pain has pushed down the threshold of Pakistani accommodation and stoicism to the lowest level ever. At the cost of much pain and considerable blood, the incident has poignantly served to cast the harsh light of reality on the opaque environment of Pakistans partnership with the US, particularly the aspect of the military cooperation astride the Pak-Afghan border. The US military is supposed to be an ally, not an enemy, and as the incident has shown, the Pakistani troops were not deployed on the ground as would have been in a state of war. They were occupying the high ground of Salalah ridge with their positions prominently marked on the US military maps to avert any unintended accidental shooting. The border areas are normally managed by the paramilitary Frontier Corps and the army troops were there to prevent cross-border attacks from Afghanistan; a scourge that had become virulent in the face of the US military failures to take action against the camps of anti-Pakistan Taliban factions in the belt of Afghan provinces contiguous to FATA. The complex situation on the Pak-Afghan border demands close cooperation, coordination and hands-on monitoring to avoid the menace of the 'friendly fire and laying down of ironclad 'rules of engagement to delineate circumstances in which the fire can be opened; ensuring that the aerial as well as the territorial space of Pakistan is not violated by any person, aircraft or fire trajectory. In fact, just a day before the catastrophe struck, General John R. Allen the commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan had met with General Kayani to tie up measures concerning coordination, communications and procedures between Pakistan army and the Nato-led Isaf and the Afghan army. Such meticulous efforts and concern by the US top brass for avoiding the loss of life on the Pakistani side due to lack of coordination have not manifestly permeated to the lower ranks of the US army; 72 Pakistani troops have fallen to the US/Nato fire in the last three years, while over 300 have suffered injuries. Such rashness in opening fire on Pakistani troops by the US/Nato forces obviously means that while formulating rules for engagement no sensitivity has been accorded to the cost of Pakistani sovereignty or blood. This attitude was the possible trigger in materialising the Salalah tragedy; threat, real or perceived, must be eliminated by shooting first and asking questions later. The US media has revealed that the US/Nato troops are permitted by the rules of engagement to cross the border in the contingency of a hot pursuit. At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in March 2007, General Douglas Lute, the then Chief Operations Officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked: Do we have the approval of Pakistani government in hot pursuit across the border? No, Lute replied; If the US forces spot as much a hostile intent against them and chase the threat towards the border then we have all the authority we need to pursue, either with fire or on the ground across the border, he said. This gung-ho attitude reflected in the Generals testimony gets magnified on the ground once applied by the tactical commanders, who know that even if they breached Pakistans sovereignty they will be well within the limits of their authority and no questions will be asked. Despite this leeway, the two-hour long attack on Salalah check post remains inexplicable. What kind of a threat was envisaged to be posed by the Salalah post to the joint Nato/Afghan operations against the Taliban going on across the border remains the dogged question. The ISPR has made it clear that no military activity was occurring in the vicinity of the post once the attack commenced and even the information from the Pakistani military on the liaison channel failed to elicit a response from the Nato side, allowing the onslaught to continue. On their part, the Isaf/Nato command is not saying much to explain their side of the story using the ruse of an inquiry that will look into the circumstances, which will somehow rationalise the method in the madness. The Salalah incident is certainly to emerge as a painful landmark in the history of Pak-US relations, which have lost the sheen of warmth, trust and camaraderie, so much needed in tackling the ups and downs of a military partnership that is now loudly creaking under the burden of a decade-long unequal relationship. No nation wants to see the coffins of its young soldiers, and in such large number, through the action of an ally. Americas callousness has cemented perception, whereby they tend to treat the lives of Pakistani servicemen in a calculus different than that applicable to their own. The death of a US Major in a firing incident by a rogue gunman at Teri Mangal on May 14, 2007, continued to rankle the Pak-US relations and became a source for haranguing Pakistan and its army by the US establishment and media (The New York Times published an incriminating article, titled Pakistanis Tied to 2007 Border Attack on Americans, as late as September 26, 2011). The propaganda tirade in the US media stemmed only in September 2011 when revelations of excerpted findings of a Court of Inquiry absolved the Pak Army of any involvement in the episode. One hopes the Salalah incident would receive prompter response from the US military and the government, because much rests on the outcome of its findings and the follow-up action. The writer is a retired brigadier and former defence attach in Australia and New Zealand. Email: