Islamabad: A NATO cross-border air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at the weekend threatens cooperation on peace efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s army spokesman warned on Monday.
The incident has hurt Washington’s efforts both to ease a crisis in relations with Islamabad and stabilise the region as it tries to wind down the war in Afghanistan.
“This could have serious consequences in the level and extent of our cooperation,” military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told Reuters.
Adding a new element to tensions, and a diplomatic boost for Islamabad, Pakistan’s ally China said it was “deeply shocked” by the incident and expressed “strong concern for the victims and profound condolences for Pakistan”.
“China believes that Pakistan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected and the incident should be thoroughly investigated and be handled properly,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement on the ministry’s website.
Pakistan has been trying to move closer to Asian powerhouse China as ties with the United States have suffered.
China and Pakistan call each other “all-weather friends” and their close ties have been underpinned by long-standing wariness of their common neighbour, India, and a desire to hedge against U.S. influence across the region.
Pakistan’s military denied reports that NATO forces in Afghanistan had come under fire before launching the attack. Abbas said the attack lasted two hours despite warnings from Pakistani border posts.
“They were contacted through the local hotline and also there had been contacts through the director-general of military operations. But despite that, this continued,” he said.
After a string of deadly incidents in the lawless and confusing border region, NATO and Pakistan set up a hotline that should allow them to communicate in case of confusion over targets, and avoid friendly fire.