Pakistan fury at Nato attack

 

Pakistan has buried 24 troops killed in a NATO cross-border air raid that has pushed a crisis in relations between the United States and a key ally in the war on terror towards rupture.

The attack was the latest perceived provocation by the United States, starting with the secret raid which killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May, and the question is whether ties will break or whether the two sides will remain stuck in a bad marriage of convenience.

NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two Pakistan military outposts yesterday, killing the soldiers in what Pakistan said was an unprovoked assault.

NATO and US officials expressed regret about the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers, but the exact circumstances of the attack were unclear.

"US stabs Pakistan in the back, again," said a headline in the Daily Times, reflecting fury over the attack in Pakistan, a regional power seen as critical to US efforts to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan.

Television stations showed the coffins of the soldiers draped in green and white Pakistani flags in a prayer ceremony at the headquarters of the regional command in Peshawar attended by army chief General Ashfaq Kayani.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar spoke with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by telephone early today to convey "the deep sense of rage felt across Pakistan".

"This negates the progress made by the two countries on improving relations and forces Pakistan to revisit the terms of engagement," a Foreign Ministry statement quoted Ms Khar as telling her US counterpart.

She also informed MS Clinton that Pakistan wants the US to vacate a drone aircraft
base in the country. Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan -- used for sending in nearly half of the alliance's land shipments -- in retaliation for the worst such attack since Islamabad uneasily allied itself with Washington following the 9/11 attacks.

That is unlikely to cool tempers in a country where anti-American sentiment runs high even when ties between Islamabad and Washington are smooth.