Pakistan buries dead soldiers as anger mounts

Pakistan buries dead soldiers as anger mounts Islamabad: Pakistan on Sunday buried its 24 soldiers killed in a cross-border air strike by NATO aircraft amidst mounting public anger over the incident that has pushed the already strained ties with the US to a new low.

Senior military commanders, including army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and civilian leaders like Khyber- Pukhtunkhawa Governor Masood Kausar attended the funeral prayer in Peshawar for the soldiers killed in yesterday's attack in Mohmand tribal region.

The officials laid wreaths on coffins draped with green and white Pakistani flags.

Later, the bodies were sent to their hometowns of the soldiers for burial.

Kayani visited the military hospital in Peshawar and met other soldiers who were injured in the incident.

The attack by NATO aircraft took the already strained Pakistan-US ties to a new low.

Bilateral ties have been buffeted since the beginning of the year by a series of incidents, including the killing of two Pakistani men by CIA contractor Raymond Davis and the US military raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

The Pakistan Army put the death toll in the NATO air strike at 24 though officials were quoted by the media as saying that 28 soldiers were killed.

Two officers - Maj Mujahid Hussain and Capt Usman Ali - were among the dead.

Pakistanis took to social media websites like Facebook and Twitter to express their dismay and concern and the media reflected the public anger over the attack.

"US stabs Pakistan in the back, again," said a headline in the Daily Times while headline in The Express Tribune read: "Pakistan inflamed as 24 killed in NATO strike".

The Pakistan government angrily responded to the attack by closing all NATO supply routes and asking the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase, reportedly used by CIA-operated drones that are used to target militants in the country's northwest.

Routes passing through Pakistani territory are used for transporting nearly half of the supplies of foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Gen Kayani directed his troops to prepare for an "effective response" to the incident and the government said it was reviewing all cooperation with US and NATO, including political, diplomatic, military and intelligence cooperation.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar conveyed the "deep sense of rage" of the Pakistani people during an early morning phone conversation with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The incident is expected to increase pressure on the Pakistani military, which faced unprecedented criticism in May for failing to detect or counter the US commando raid that killed bin Laden.

Analysts said the army could use the incident to reassert its position and influence over the country's politics.

In an editorial, the Daily Times said: "This is a very precarious time in the US-Pakistan arena with this year in particular being especially trying.

"From Raymond Davis and his gun slinging on the streets of Lahore to the Osama bin Laden incident and now to the firing on Pakistani soldiers on the volatile Pak-Afghan border, things hardly seem able to get any worse".

However, the daily said attacks like yesterday's air strike were happening "because we have brought NATO and US officials to a head in their frustration about the progress in the war on terror".

"We promised to tackle the militants who have free rein to cross the border at any time and attack US targets in Afghanistan. However, what we did not tell them was that we were going to have a little fun of our own - we were going to play the double game in the name of 'strategic depth'," it said.

The Express Tribune, in its editorial, said the NATO air strike was "a bloody reminder of how the two countries are poles apart when it comes to Afghanistan".

It added: "The reason the US carries out such risky raids in Pakistan is because we have refused to take action against the Haqqani network, claiming it is not in our interest to do so".

The influential Dawn newspaper, in its editorial, called for greater cooperation between Pakistan and the US as the Pakistan-Afghanistan border had "become increasingly dangerous" due to incursions and attacks taking place in both directions.

"The need is for more cooperation, not less. But the mistrust that an incident like this can foster will do nothing to bring that about," it said.