Islamabad, Nov 27 : Pakistan on Saturday asked the US to vacate an airbase that has reportedly been used by American drones and closed NATO supply routes in response to a cross-border air strike by the coalition aircraft that killed 28 Pakistani soldiers.
The Pakistan government framed its response to the NATO air strike during an emergency meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani this evening.
The meeting was attended by the three service chiefs, including army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The cabinet committee decided to “close with immediate effect the NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines” and asked the “US to vacate the Shamsi airbase within 15 days”, said a statement issued by the Prime Minister's House.
The move came hours after NATO helicopters and fighter jets fired at two border posts in Mohmand tribal region at 2 am.
Officials were quoted by the media as saying that 28 soldiers, including a major and a captain, were killed and 15 more injured in the air strike.
A statement issued by the army put the death toll at 24. Kayani strongly condemned “NATO/ISAF's blatant and unacceptable act” and issued orders for taking all necessary steps for “an effective response to this irresponsible act”.
The Defence Committee of the Cabinet “reiterated the resolve of the Pakistani people and armed forces to safeguard Pakistan's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity at all costs”, the official statement said. Till recently, Pakistani supply routes were used to transport a majority of supplies for US and allied forces in Afghanistan.
Following a wave of attacks on supply vehicles and strained relations with Pakistan, the US has stepped up the use of alternative routes in Central Asian countries. However, hundreds of NATO tankers and supply vehicles continued to cross over into Afghanistan from southwest and northwest Pakistan every day.
Pakistan had last asked the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase in June.
Numerous reports have said the CIA operates its unmanned spy planes from the airbase in Balochistan province, 900 km from Islamabad. Images of US Predator drones at the airbase have been published by Google Earth.
Secret American diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks have suggested that the United Arab Emirates, which has controlled Shamsi airbase since the 1990s, has allowed the US to use it for its drone flights.
The statement issued after the meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet noted that the decision to close NATO supply routes and to ask the US to vacate Shamsi airbase had been taken in line with a resolution adopted at a joint session of parliament that was held in the wake of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.
The statement said Prime Minister Gilani would take “parliament into confidence on the whole range of measures regarding matters relating to Pakistan's future cooperation with US/NATO/ISAF in the near future”. The cabinet committee strongly condemned the attack by NATO and ISAF aircraft on the Pakistani border posts and expressed sympathies and condolences to the families of the dead soldiers.
Pakistan also lodged strong protests with the US and at NATO headquarters in Brussels, “conveying in the strongest possible terms Pakistan's condemnation of these attacks which constituted breach of sovereignty, were violative of international law and had gravely dented the fundamental basis of Pakistan's cooperation with NATO/ISAF against militancy and terror”.
The Defence Committee of the Cabinet contended the air strike had violated the mandate of NATO and ISAF, which was confined to Afghanistan.
“Pakistan had clearly conveyed to US/NATO/ISAF its red lines which constituted an integral element of Pakistan's cooperation that was based on a partnership approach,” the statement said.
“The attack on Pakistan Army border posts is totally unacceptable and warrants an effective national response,” the committee said.
The DCC further decided that the government would “revisit and undertake a complete review of all programmes, activities and cooperative arrangements with US/NATO/ISAF, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence” cooperation, the statement said.
In Islamabad, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir called in US Ambassador Cameron Munter to lodge a “strong protest on the unprovoked NATO/ISAF attack”, the Foreign Office said.
Bashir told the US envoy that the attack had “deeply incensed the government and the people of Pakistan”.
In a statement issued by the US Embassy, Ambassador Munter said: “I regret the loss of life of any Pakistani servicemen, and pledge that the United States will work closely with Pakistan to investigate this incident.”