It's important that a thorough investigation determine what happened in the recent NATO airstrike in a rugged border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A joint American-Afghan patrol in Afghanistan began taking mortar and small-arms fire from Taliban fighters. The patrol apparently mistook a Pakistan border outpost for an insurgent detachment and called for help from the air. The airstrike took place at night, after the U.S.-Afghan patrol was told by the Pakistani army that it had no troops in the area. Two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed.
The outcome was disastrous not only for the casualties but for the already-rocky relationship between Washington and Islamabad. One Pakistani general, Ashfaq Nadeem, called it a "deliberate act of aggression" and declared that Islamabad may not cooperate with the investigation.
Pakistan has been playing both sides for years -- quietly supporting certain militant groups fighting NATO in Afghanistan, while combating other insurgent groups threatening Pakistan within its own borders. Worse, instead of quelling nationalist passions, Pakistani leaders have fomented them, as did Nadeem with his "deliberate" remark. The assertion is ridiculous.
U.S. officials should conduct an exhaustive investigation and lay any blame where the facts determine.
But they also should firmly remind Islamabad of its diminishing options. A breach with Washington would leave Pakistan with few, if any, friends in the region and only a tentative tie with China, which no doubt sees the Pakistanis as unreliable. A breach would cost Pakistan billions in U.S. aid. And it would further encourage U.S. ties with India, opening Afghanistan's door wider to Delhi.
-- The Kansas City Star