Pakistan may discontinue its support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism if its sovereignty is violated again, a top official said Thursday in the latest sign of the country's continuing outrage over a deadly NATO airstrike on a Pakistani military outpost last week.
"Enough is enough. The government will not tolerate any incident of spilling even a single drop of any civilian or soldier's blood," Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told Pakistan lawmakers, according to The News newspaper.
"Pakistan's role in the war on terror must not be overlooked," Khar said.
Twenty-four Pakistani soldiers died Saturday after a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol called in an airstrike along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. NATO is investigating the apparent friendly fire incident, but the two sides have differed over the sequence of events. The NATO force reported coming under fire before requesting the strike, and a preliminary U.S. military report suggests Taliban fighters.
Pakistani officials have insisted the attack was unprovoked. Officials also claim the strikesdespite alerting NATO that it was targeting the outpost.
American and NATO officials have expressed sympathy over the deaths, saying the incident was a mistake. The border area is infested with militants, whom NATO has long complained receive safe haven on the Pakistan side to launch attacks in Afghanistan.
The border incident has greatly strengthened anti-American sentiment, reducing the political space for those who argue that cooperation with Washington is in the country's interest. The army, which has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid since 2001 in exchange for its cooperation, however limited, against militants, has fueled the hard line by accusing NATO of a "deliberate act of aggression."
Now Pakistan is seeking to redefine its ties with the U.S., a senior Pakistani government official told CBS News on Thursday, claiming a simple apology would not be enough to repair damaged ties.
But even that may not be forthcoming. While the U.S. has expressed its official condolences, there has been no official apology. The New York Times reports the Obama administration rejected the suggestion of Cameron Munter, its ambassador to Pakistan, that a formal video statement from Mr. Obama was needed to repair the frayed ties.
Instead, Munter recorded a message of condolence, saying that "my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the men who died." In Urdu, the local language, he then said "we are extremely regretful."
Pakistan has retaliated for the incident by closing its Afghan border crossings to NATO supplies, by demanding the U.S. vacate an air base used by American drones attacking militants along the frontier, and byaimed at stabilizing Afghanistan.
Washington is keen to repair damage done to the relationship. It wants to get the supplies moving again, and also sees Islamabad's links with Afghan insurgent leaders on its soil as a key asset in negotiating a peace deal in Afghanistan which will allow the U.S. to withdraw its combat troops by the scheduled 2014 deadline.
Pakistan relies heavily on American aid, and it too wants to avoid a rupture in ties.
The U.S. and Pakistan have long had a troubled relationship, thanks to Pakistan's reluctance to target Afghan Taliban fighters and their allies using Pakistani territory to attack American troops in Afghanistan. Islamabad is believed to see those insurgents as useful proxies in Afghanistan, once the U.S. withdraws.
The NATO attack was the latest in a series of crises to beset the relationship this year.
In January, an American CIA contractor shot two Pakistani men who he said tried to rob him, sparking outrage. The May 2 unilateral raid that killed Osama bin Laden was also portrayed as a gross violation of Pakistan's sovereignty, largely drowning out questions over how the al Qaeda chief was living undetected in an army town for five years.
Most experts believe the two countries will patch things up this time, and that the border closure will be temporary, chiefly because Washington and Islamabad still need each other. But the Pakistani reaction since the strikes has betrayed the lack of trust at the heart of the relationship, and bodes ill for meaningful Western cooperation with Pakistan over ending the Afghan war.