KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan police general watched on television as Pakistani soldiers solemnly saluted the coffins of their 24 comrades killed in a U.S. military airstrike early Saturday.
The general stood up in disgust. While U.S. officials from the war zone to the White House offered contrite condolences to the families of the dead and scrambled to repair the tattered relationship with Pakistan, Afghan officials have taken a tougher line.
Frustrated by a Taliban insurgency they are convinced is supervised by and stationed in Pakistan, they have expressed little remorse, even accusing Pakistan of exaggerating the gravity of the situation to deflect attention from its own meddling in Afghanistan.
Afghan officials said that the airstrike — which followed an operation carried out by U.S. forces and Afghan army commandos — was justified because the troops came under fire first from a Pakistani border post.
The decision by Pakistan's Cabinet on Tuesday to boycott next week's international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, seemed likely to keep the mutual suspicion between the neighbors at a strong simmer. The conference was once seen as a chance to lure Taliban representatives to negotiate, but that plan never materialized.
The meeting's importance now depends on whether it can convey that the countries in the region, as well as the West, are committed to supporting Afghanistan's government and working together to end the war. Pakistan's cooperation is crucial in this regard — particularly given its influence over the Taliban — and its absence would be a clear symbol that peace remains elusive.
The Pakistani Cabinet, after a meeting in the eastern city of Lahore, said in a statement that it supports "stability and peace in Afghanistan and the importance of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process of reconciliation." But Pakistan, it said, had decided to bow out of the conference "in view of the developments and prevailing circumstances."
As well as bowing out of the Bonn conference, Pakistan has also blocked NATO ground supplies from entering Afghanistan and told U.S. officials to vacate a base in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. In a bid to repair the rift, coalition officials have offered sympathy and expressed hope that an investigation, led by Central Command, will clarify why the airstrike took place.