Funerals held for soldiers killed in Nato attack at border post as Pakistan considers staying away from Bonn conference
Saeed Shah in Karachi
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 27 November 2011 12.32 GMT
Pakistan is considering boycotting an international conference on the future of Afghanistan in retaliation for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers who came under attack from Nato helicopters at a border checkpost.
The Pakistani military alleged that the attack 1.5 miles inside Pakistani territory in the early hours of Saturday was deliberate, as it was a well-known position manned by regular troops. US officials have suggested the Nato force was acting in self-defence.
Funerals were held for the dead soldiers in Peshawar on Sunday. Prayers conducted in front of 24 coffins, each wrapped in a Pakistani flag, were televised live. The army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, attended the service at a military base, as did leading officials from the north-west provincial administration.
Television channels repeatedly replayed images of the funeral, set to patriotic music usually reserved for wartime. Kayani, considered the most powerful man in the country, visited a hospital in Peshawar to meet soldiers injured in the incident.
The conference in Bonn, scheduled for 5 December, will mark a decade since the German city hosted the first international meeting to chalk out Afghanistan’s future. It had once been hoped that the meeting might kick off the peace process in Afghanistan, but expectations had already been lowered even before this weekend.
If a key regional player such as Pakistan stays away, the event will appear even more hollow. Pakistan’s co-operation is considered vital for stabilising Afghanistan and bringing the Taliban into negotiations.
Tehmina Janjua, of Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs, said the Bonn issue was “being examined and no decision has yet been taken in this regard”.
Pakistan announced late on Saturday that it had blocked supplies to Nato forces passing through the country. Half of Nato supplies pass by land through Pakistan. Islamabad also said it would stop USuse of the Shamsi airbase, in the west of the country. Shamsi had been used in the past to fly drone aircraft, which target suspected militants in Pakistan’s tribal area; it is unclear whether the base was still used for armed drones.
Nato pledged a full investigation into the attack. “I have written to the prime minister of Pakistan to make it clear that the deaths of Pakistani personnel are as unacceptable and deplorable as the deaths of Afghan and international personnel,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s secretary general. “This was a tragic unintended incident.”
Events leading up to the incident remain unclear. In the past, much confusion has been caused by Taliban insurgents firing into Afghanistan from positions close to Pakistani checkposts, making it appear to Nato and Afghan troops that they are coming under attack from the Pakistani posts. Pakistani soldiers have previously shot into the air to warn Nato helicopters that they have crossed the border, but that has been mistaken by the aircraft crew for incoming fire.