With Pakistan pressing the reset button on its cooperation with the United States-led coalition forces in Afghanistan after the helicopter attack on Pakistan Army border posts in the Mohmand agency on Saturday, Washington and other lead members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) spent the last 24 hours soothing frayed Pakistani nerves and stressing the need to keep the engagement going.
By Sunday morning — hours after Pakistan's civil and military leadership asked the U.S. to vacate the Shamsi airbase and ordered closure of NATO supply lines running through the country from Karachi into Afghanistan — State Department and Pentagon were working the phones with Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
In a telephonic conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the attack, which left 24 soldiers killed and 13 injured, negated the progress made by the two countries in improving the relations and forced Pakistan to revisit the terms of engagement.
Similar conversations were held with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who deplored the attack and said it was unacceptable. The latter expressed the hope that the military incident would not affect political cooperation.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also spoke to Ms. Khar to assure Pakistan that Turkey would use its NATO membership to press for an impartial enquiry.
Writes to Gilani
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has written to Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, stating that “the deaths of Pakistani personnel are as unacceptable and deplorable as the deaths of Afghan and international personnel.”
Stating that this was a “tragic, unintended incident,” he stressed the need to improve cooperation to avoid such incidents.
He said, “We have a joint interest in the fight against cross-border terrorism and in ensuring that Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for terrorists.”
In a related development, Pakistan has also lodged a strong protest with Afghanistan over the helicopter attacks from Afghan soil.
The protest underscores that the use of Afghan territory against Pakistan by NATO is a violation of the International Security Assistance Force's mandate for operations in Afghanistan and asked Kabul to ensure that such acts are not carried out from its soil against Pakistan.
Though NATO and the ISAF were quick to start an investigation, Pakistani political class has closed ranks behind the government. Some are demanding that the matter be taken to the U.N. and others want a firm commitment from the NATO/ISAF that those responsible for killing Pakistani soldiers would be punished.