- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senior lawmakers suggested Sunday that the United States take a harder line with Pakistan, after Islamabad retaliated for NATO’s deadly misfire by closing parts of its border with Afghanistan and demanding that the U.S. vacate a drone base.

The comments by Sens. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, and Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, show how strained Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S., and Congress specifically, has become in recent months. Lawmakers approve billions of dollars in military and civilian aid for Pakistan with the expectation that its government will help target al Qaeda operatives and push Afghan militants toward peace talks.

“There’s a lot of diplomacy that has to occur, and it has to be tough diplomacy in the sense that they need to understand that our support for them financially is dependent upon their cooperation with us,” said Mr. Kyl, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican.

Mr. Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, said Pakistan’s latest move is further evidence that the U.S. must end its military involvement in the region and bring troops home.

“As difficult as it is to fight our way thru this diplomatic morass between the incompetence and maybe corruption of Afghanistan and the complicity in parts of Pakistan, our soldiers are caught right in the middle of this at a time they are trying to bring peace to the region,” Mr. Durbin said.

NATO said it is investigating its likely involvement in Saturday’s attack, which killed 24 Pakistani troops along the Afghan border. Afghan officials say their soldiers called for help after being fired upon from the direction of Pakistani border posts.

Outraged by the attacks and claiming they were unprovoked, Islamabad swiftly closed its border to trucks delivering supplies to coalition troops in Afghanistan and demanded the U.S. vacate within 15 days a base used by American drones.

The blockade is guaranteed to frustrate Congress, already incensed that Pakistan never tipped off the U.S. to Osama bin Laden’s hideout within its borders.

While calling for tougher diplomacy with Pakistan, Mr. Kyl said he would stop short of cutting off U.S. aid entirely to Pakistan. He said that severing ties in the past has led only to an increased influence of Islamic extremists among Pakistan’s military ranks.

“It’s very important to maintain the relationship for the long haul,” he said, without offering more specifics on how that might be done.

Mr. Durbin suggested the U.S. back out from the region from a military standpoint.

“We’ve got to leave it to Afghan forces,” he said.

Mr. Kyl and Mr. Durbin spoke on “Fox News Sunday.”