Pakistan said Saturday it was reviewing its relations with the United States and NATO in the aftermath of a pre-dawn cross-border airstrike on two military outposts in the country’s northwest that killed at least 26 Pakistani soldiers and wounded 14 others.
The incident, discussed by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and top military and government leaders during an emergency meeting late in the day, appeared to plunge already strained U.S.-Pakistani relations deeper into crisis.
In a statement, the officials said “the government will revisit and undertake a complete review of all programs, activities and cooperative arrangements with US/NATO/ISAF, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence.”
They condemned what they described as an “unprovoked attack” on its forces by NATO aircraft and called the incident “unacceptable,” saying it could not be considered a mistake. The statement called for “strong and urgent action against those responsible for this aggression.”
Pakistan retaliated by shutting down all NATO supply lines through its territory to Afghanistan and gave the United States 15 days to shut down its activities at the Shamsi airbase. It is not clear how long Pakistan’s border crossings into Afghanistan would remain closed to NATO.
Meanwhile, Washington’s ambassador to Islamabad, Cameron Munter was summoned to the Foreign Ministry Saturday to explain the incident. Munter said the U.S. regrets the loss of life among “any Pakistani servicemen” and promised to work closely with Pakistan to find out what happened.
NATO said the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, General John Allen, is personally paying the “highest attention” to the matter. General Allen also offered his condolences to families of any members of the Pakistani security forces who may have died or were wounded.
The United Arab Emirates leases the Shamsi airbase located in a remote southwestern part of Pakistan. The U.S. spy agency, the CIA, reportedly uses the base for covert drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt, but the Pakistani military said in June that the United States does not operate out of that base.
U.S. officials have said Pakistan’s tribal belt provides sanctuary to the Taliban, which has been fighting for 10 years against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Ties between Washington and Islamabad have been unraveling since a covert U.S. commando raid on May 2 killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who was hiding for years in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbotabad. Pakistan was outraged it was not informed beforehand and angered by what it saw as a U.S. violation of its sovereignty.