While U.S. officials from the war zone to the White House offered contrite condolences to the families of the dead and scrambled to repair the tattered relationship with Pakistan, Afghan officials have taken a tougher line. Frustrated by a Taliban insurgency they are convinced is supervised by and based in Pakistan, they have expressed little remorse, even accusing Pakistan of exaggerating the gravity of the situation to deflect attention from its own meddling in Afghanistan.
Afghan officials said the strike — which followed an operation by U.S. Special Operations forces and Afghan army commandos — was justified because the troops came under fire first from a Pakistani border post. “We have absolutely nothing to apologize for,” a senior official said.
The decision by Pakistan’s cabinet Tuesday to boycott next week’s international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, seemed likely to keep the mutual suspicion between the neighbors at a strong simmer. The conference was once considered a chance to lure Taliban representatives to negotiate, but that plan never materialized.
The meeting’s importance will now depend on whether it can show that the countries in the region, as well as the West, are committed to supporting Afghanistan’s government and working together to end the war. Pakistan’s cooperation is crucial in this regard — particularly given its influence over the Taliban — and its absence would be a clear symbol that peace remains elusive.
The Pakistani cabinet, after a meeting in the eastern city of Lahore, said in a statement that it supports “stability and peace in Afghanistan and the importance of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process of reconciliation.” But Pakistan, it said, had decided to bow out of the conference “in view of the developments and prevailing circumstances.”
According to an account by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s office, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had called Gilani to plead against a boycott, arguing that it would not encourage peace in Afghanistan. Gilani responded: “How could a country whose own sovereignty and territorial integrity were violated from the Afghan soil . . . play a constructive role?”
Karzai expressed his condolences to the Pakistani people and told Gilani that “insecurity in the region causes these kinds of incidents,” his office said.
One Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity called the boycott “very unfortunate,” adding, “Pakistan is taking itself from the table precisely when it should be contributing to a solution in Afghanistan.”
In addition to bowing out of the Bonn conference, Pakistan has blocked NATO supply routes into Afghanistan and told U.S. officials to vacate a base in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. In a bid to repair the rift, coalition officials have offered sympathy and expressed hope that an investigation, led by U.S. Central Command, will clarify why the airstrike took place.