|English.news.cn 2011-12-05 10:35:42||Xinhua, China.|
|Pakistani people yell anti-NATO slogans during a demonstration in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan on December 4, 2011, against the cross-border NATO air strike on Pakistani troops. The Pakistani government has turned down Washington's invitation to jointly investigate a cross-border attack by NATO forces that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. (Xinhua /Ahmad Kamal)|
By Zhang Qi,
ISLAMABAD, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama late on Sunday night (local time) made a phone call to the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, expressing his condolences over the Pakistani troops killed in a recent NATO cross-border air strike. A analyst here said the wounds would eventually heal, but scars remain.
Following the NATO strike, protests have been staged by people from all walks of life across Pakistan. Opposition party leaders have demanded the government to withdraw from the U.S. alliance in the fight against terrorism.
Earlier on Sunday local media reported that the U.S. side had started to evacuate from its Shamsi air base under the close watch of the Pakistani security forces. Located some 320 kilometers southwest of Quetta, capital city in Pakistan's southwest Balochistan province, Shamsi air base is a major platform which has reportedly been used by the United States since 2001 for launching military operations in Afghanistan and drone strikes in Pakistan's northwest tribal areas where militants of different groups often launch cross-border attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan.
PAKISTAN DEMANDING APOLOGY
This is the first phone call made by the U.S. president to the Pakistani leadership since the incident, showing the U.S. deep concerns about the deteriorating relationships between the two countries following the incident.
On the early morning of Nov. 26, NATO fighter jets and helicopters launched a strike on two Pakistani army border check posts in Mohmand tribal area bordering Afghanistan, killing 24 Pakistani troops including two senior officials and wounding 13 others.
In the wake of the NATO attack, the Pakistani government immediately ordered the closure of two border check points for NATO supplies into Afghanistan through Pakistan and the vacation of the U.S. Shamsi air base in Pakistan within 15 days. A couple of days later, Pakistan also decided to boycott the Bonn Conference scheduled to be held on Dec. 5 in Germany, indicating an escalation in the strained ties between the two allies in the anti-terror war.
Despite the three measures taken by the Pakistani government, the Pakistani side has so far not received any official apology from the U.S. or NATO side apart from symbolic gestures of condolences and promises of investigation into the incident.
In a recent interview with CNN, the Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said that "Business as usual will not be there. We have to have something bigger that satisfies my nation and entire country."
The prime minister's words could imply that this time even an official apology from the U.S. or NATO would not be enough to solve the dispute. Under the current circumstances, Pakistan may take more steps in retaliation so as to alleviate the pressure mounted by its people.
|Pakistani people hold anti-NATO placards during a demonstration in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan on Dec. 4, 2011, against the cross-border NATO air strike on Pakistani troops. (Xinhua /Ahmad Kamal)|
U.S. TRYING TO BRING ALLY BACK
While the U.S. evacuation from the Shamsi air base could be viewed as a victory on the Pakistani side, local watchers believed that the disgracefully withdraw from the Shamsi air base under the pressure of Pakistan could also indicate that the U.S. side won't easily make other concessions to Pakistan despite the fact that Islamabad may want more this time.
No matter what would possibly happen between the two sides, local watchers believed that neither side can afford to go to extremes. "The wounds would eventually heal though scars will remain," said one local analyst who declined to be named. After all, the two sides have many interests in common, he said.
Putting aside the common interests in the anti-terror war, the two sides also need each other in many aspects such as the U.S. support for a democratic government in Pakistan and maintaining a balance in the South Asian Subcontinent, etc, he added.
In the same interview with CNN, the Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani has hinted that Pakistan wants to maintain its relationship with the United States so long as the U.S. government show its respect for Pakistan's sovereignty. In a late Saturday night telephone talk with Gilani, the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also expressed that the current problem should not be allowed to jeopardize the bilateral relations.
The latest gesture offered by Obama by calling his Pakistani counterpart to express condolences over the killed Pakistani soldiers has also demonstrated the U.S. intention to mend the ties with the country and bring its ally back on the track in the anti- terror war.