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Pakistan Announces Boycott of Afghanistan Conference

  • Kurt Achin

Pakistan says it will boycott a major Afghanistan reconciliation conference next week in Germany to protest NATO's recent airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's decision to boycott the Afghanistan conference in Bonn, Germany, comes despite an appeal by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to reconsider.

And because certain Afghan militant groups have ties to Pakistan's security forces, Pakistan's engagement is considered crucial to any future Afghan stability effort.

U.S.-led NATO combat forces are scheduled to depart in 2014, meaning the window of time to negotiate a secure peace framework is rapidly shrinking.

For many Pakistanis, the deaths of 24 soldiers killed in a friendly fire incident involving NATO warplanes and helicopter gunships are painful.

And popular anger is mounting with many Pakistanis calling on their government to sever its long-time alliance with the United States, despite billions of dollars in U.S. aid each year.

“If you are hitting your own friends, what would you expect from your enemies, like the Taliban? We are your allies - you should not strike us back,” said one man.

“Everybody in Pakistan is against it - in the tribal areas, especially, they are very unhappy. They are going against Americans, they are going against the Pakistan government if proper action is not taken,” said another man.

Besides boycotting the Afghanistan conference, Pakistan also has shut down two overland supply routes that NATO uses to provide nonlethal supplies to its forces in Afghanistan.

And it is seeking to disrupt the use of American drone aircraft in the Afghan war by ordering the U.S. to vacate an airbase in Pakistan. Drone attacks and civilian collateral damage are frequent irritants to the Pakistani government and citizens.

Simbal Khan, a researcher at Islamabad's Institute of Strategic Studies, said the Pakistani government had no choice but to take a firm stand toward the U.S. and NATO.

“What we are going to see is probably a change in the reaction as we move forward in dealing with this event. I think the future reactions and what you're going to see from government and from the people in the next two or three days is going to be dependent now on the response from the U.S. and from NATO,” said Khan.

Khan also said that NATO needs to better define the rules of engagement along the Pakistani border.

“We want to move forward with the U.S. and with our international partners in the future, providing safeguards are put in place to prevent certain incidents from happening in the future,” said Khan.

The United States is leading an investigation into how and why the NATO aircraft fired on the two Pakistani military outposts. A report of the investigation's findings is expected to be complete by the end of next December.