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Deadly Airstrike Renews Focus on US-Pakistani Ties

People offer funeral prayers of Saturday's NATO attack victims in Peshawar, Pakistan, November 27, 2011.
People offer funeral prayers of Saturday's NATO attack victims in Peshawar, Pakistan, November 27, 2011.

Furor surrounding a NATO airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers has prompted very different assessments of future U.S.-Pakistani ties from two high-ranking American senators.

The Senate’s number-two Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona, says Pakistan remains a critical partner in America’s war on terrorism.

“It is very important to maintain the relationship for the long haul,” said Kyl.

Kyl spoke on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday.

Pakistan has responded swiftly to Saturday’s cross-border airstrike in the country’s northwest, shutting down NATO supply lines into neighboring Afghanistan and ordering the United States to vacate an air base in Pakistan within 15 days.

Senator Kyl says lines of communication must remain open between Washington and Islamabad.

“There is a lot of diplomacy that has to occur," said Kyl. "And it has to be tough diplomacy in the sense that they need to understand that our support for them, financially, is dependent on their cooperation with us. But it is not the kind of situation where you can just cut off all assistance, because we do need their support in the region.”

Also appearing on Fox was the second-highest ranking Democratic senator, Richard Durbin of Illinois. Durbin argued it is America’s 10-year war in Afghanistan that tethers the United States to Pakistan.

“As difficult as it is to find our way through this diplomatic morass, between the incompetence and maybe corruption in Afghanistan and the complicity in parts of Pakistan, our soldiers are caught right in the middle of this - at a time when they are trying to bring peace to the region," he said. "I think it is an argument, from my point of view, of moving us toward the day when our American soldiers come home.”

One Republican presidential contender weighed in with a different perspective. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman says the United States should be prepared to seek a new strategic partner in South Asia.

“I would recognize exactly what the U.S.-Pakistani relationship has become, which is merely a transactional relationship," he said. "And I think our expectations have to be very, very low in terms of what we can get out of the relationship. I think, we thought we could get more, and we have been proven wrong time and time again.”

U.S. and NATO officials have offered condolences to Pakistan for the airstrike.