By Carlo Muñoz - 11/04/13 03:25 PM EST
Islamabad is again threatening to shutter key U.S. supply lines into and out of Afghanistan in response to an American drone strike that killed the reputed chief of the Pakistani Taliban.
Hakimullah Mehsud and five other Taliban members were reportedly leaving a mosque outside the Dande Darpakhel area of North Waziristan when their vehicle was hit, intelligence officials in Peshawar said Friday.
But his killing by American forces inside Pakistan's borders, an issue that has continually riled U.S.-Pakistani relations, has enraged the country's leaders and reignited the debate over the critical Afghan supply lines.
Pakistan has publicly condemned U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan, claiming the attacks are a violation of the country's sovereignty.
Adding fuel to the fire is that the attack took place just as peace talks between the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were slated to begin.
"The murder of Hakimullah is the murder of all efforts at peace," Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said.
"Americans said they support our efforts at peace. Is this support?" Nisar said Sunday, according to Reuters.
On Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen attempted to tamp down Pakistan's increasingly heated rhetoric over a possible shutdown of the Afghan supply lines.
"I feel confident that the Pakistani authorities will maintain open supply routes and transit routes because it is in Pakistan's own interest to contribute positively to stability and security in the region," Rasmussen told reporters at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.
Despite Pakistan's sovereignty claims, Rasmussen argued closure of the supply lines to the Americans would be harmful to all countries involved, not just the United States.
"The security of Afghanistan and Pakistan is inter-linked. There can't be security in the one country without security in the other," he said.
Mehsud's organization, known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, "constitutes a threat to the whole region," Rasmussen added.
The NATO leader's comments echoed those of Secretary of State John Kerry.
"We intend to continue to work together with [Pakistan] through the strategic dialogue that we have established in order to work through these kinds of challenges," he said in a statement Monday.
The debate over the possible closure of the Afghan supply lines to U.S. forces comes at a critical time for the White House, which is pushing to have all American combat troops out of Afghanistan by next year.
Last June, Pakistan agreed to reopen the supply routes to American and NATO forces following a rare public apology from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton apologized to former Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar for an errant U.S. airstrike November 2011 that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
"We are both sorry for losses suffered by both our countries in this fight against terrorists," Clinton said in a statement.
The incident occurred when American and NATO forces mistook Pakistani forces for insurgent fighters and opened fire. In retaliation, Islamabad closed off supply routes in Pakistan that have been used by coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
While the White House and the Pentagon have repeatedly expressed their regret for the air raid, no one from the Obama administration had formally or informally apologized for the attack until that time.