Pakistani Foreign Minister Discusses NATO Bombing

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar speaks to Melissa Block about the NATO strikes that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers over the weekend.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, Pakistan has reacted quickly to the air strikes. It shut border crossings used to supply NATO forces in Afghanistan. It ordered the CIA to vacate an air base in Pakistan, and today, as we mentioned, Pakistan announced it will boycott a key international conference next week on Afghan security.

I asked the Pakistani foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, what message her country was sending with the decision to skip that conference.

HINA RABBANI KHAR: Pakistan, today, at this point where we have to do some serious introspection to see what we make of the role that we play within the international efforts in Afghanistan. As to the question of sovereignty of Pakistan, this question of territorial integrity of Pakistan, and really, the questions are being asked that - is it too much of a cost that Pakistan has paid?

BLOCK: Are you saying, Foreign Minister Khar, that Pakistan is fundamentally reconsidering whether it should be part of a peace process in Afghanistan along with the United States and NATO forces?

KHAR: Let me be clear on that one. I think we, in Pakistan, feel that Pakistan's role has been misinterpreted, has not been recognized, has not been appreciated enough. And, on top of that, to have an incident in which we feel, at best, giving the benefit of doubt, our soldiers lost their lives to an extremely callous attitude. This episode has obviously created a lot of rage in Pakistan because this is not the first time that Pakistan has lost its soldiers to NATO fire.

BLOCK: Foreign Minister Khar, when you say giving this the benefit of the doubt, are you saying there is a more nefarious scenario? There was a top Pakistani army general today who told Pakistani journalists that, in his words, the air strike was a deliberate act of aggression by NATO forces. Do you agree with that?

KHAR: We would like to wait for the investigations. Currently, the briefings that we have gotten seem to be pointing towards a direction which is not a happy case to be in. If it is a deliberate attempt, then the questions that I referred to would obviously be much, much, much more serious.

BLOCK: Let me be clear on what you're saying here, Foreign Minister Khar. The United States has called this a tragic mistake. Are you putting forth a scenario where you're indicating that this might not have been a mistake, that this may have been a deliberate act of aggression against Pakistani troops, which is a very serious charge?

KHAR: I'm not going to run to any conclusions and I hope that is not true, but the fact of the matter is that even if it is a mistake, it's certainly a calloused mistake because this did not happen over five minutes. This was into hours, for sure, and that leaves many, many unanswered questions.

BLOCK: Will Pakistan cooperate with the investigation that the U.S. has launched into this air strike?

KHAR: Pakistan has not responded to that yet and I would not want to comment on that at this point in time. I think the questions raised in Pakistan are much larger than whether we will participate in the investigation or not. I want to emphasize on the fact that this is not an isolated incident. You remember the incident of May 2nd, the questions that it raised about the red lines that Pakistan has put in place.

If the terms of engagement are not clearly understood, are not clearly respected, that gives each of the parties the right to go back and reassess the situation that I think Pakistan is, today, just exercising that right.

BLOCK: When you mentioned the events of May 2nd, you're referring to the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan?

KHAR: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

BLOCK: Foreign Minister Khar, you mentioned earlier that Pakistan's efforts to cooperate in the fight against terrorism have gone unrecognized. Of course, your country does depend on billions of dollars in U.S. aid, military and otherwise. Do you think that limits the leverage that you might have as you respond to these deaths in the air strike?

KHAR: You know, I would hope not because I think, you know, I like to call it the dependency syndrome. It's over-exaggerated. I think we have to really get grips on what this relationship is really about. And for Pakistan, this relationship is not about aid and assistance. I think there are far too many much more important strategic goals and objectives that we wish to achieve.

And the question of sovereignty is an extremely important one and this is not the first time. You can have a space for mistakes once. You can have it twice, but you can not have it, you know, for eight times. These types of engagement are not acceptable to the Pakistani public. They will certainly not be acceptable to the parliament of Pakistan and to the government of Pakistan.

BLOCK: Foreign Minister Khar, thanks for talking with us today.

KHAR: Thank you.

BLOCK: Hina Rabbani Khar is the foreign minister of Pakistan. She spoke with me from Lahore.

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