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Pakistan Cancels U.S.-Afghan Talks After Drone Strike

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RAYMOND DAVIS PROTEST
Getty File

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan pulled out of talks this month with the United States on the future of Afghanistan in protest of an especially deadly American missile attack, the government said Friday, in a sign of rising tensions between the two uneasy allies.

Pakistan's powerful army chief has already criticized Thursday's missile attack on a house close to the Afghan border in a rare personal statement. Intelligence officials say around 36 people – most of them civilians – were killed. A U.S. official familiar with details denied that innocent people were targeted and suggested all the dead were militants or sympathizers.

The relationship was already fraught over the case of an American CIA contractor who shot and killed two Pakistanis but was freed on Wednesday, putting the weak government on the defensive against critics who accused it of selling out to the Americans.

The missile attack added to the heat on the government, which summoned U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter to protest.

"It is evident that the fundamentals of our relations need to be revisited," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that did not mention how many civilians were killed. "Pakistan should not be taken for granted nor treated as a client state."

The statement said Pakistan would not attend talks proposed by the United States in Brussels on March 26.

Pakistan had been scheduled to send its deputy foreign minister to the meeting, which was also to include a delegation from Afghanistan, it said.

The U.S. Embassy declined to comment because it was not aware any meeting had been proposed.

An earlier round of the trilateral talks was canceled by the United States in February, apparently in protest of the detention of Raymond Allen Davis, the contractor.

America routinely fires missiles against al-Qaida and Taliban targets close to the Afghan border, and U.S. officials say privately Pakistan assists in some of the strikes. But the program is publicly opposed by Pakistan's government and army because it believes admitting collaborating with America in attacks on its own people would be highly damaging politically.

Davis shot and killed two Pakistanis on Jan. 27 in the eastern city of Lahore and was arrested at the scene.

Washington claimed Davis acted in self-defense and had diplomatic immunity, but Pakistan's government did not accept this. He was released from prison as part of a court deal in which the victims' relatives received $2.3 million in compensation.

Both countries agreed on the "blood money" deal because it meant they could plausibly deny any responsibility for his release. Washington was never likely to allow a CIA contractor to stand trial in Pakistan, while Pakistan's economy is kept afloat with money from America and the International Monetary Fund, meaning Islamabad could not afford to sever its ties with Washington over the affair despite domestic pressure to put him on trial.

There were small demonstrations Friday against the release of Davis in several towns and cities across Pakistan.

The national government in Islamabad and the opposition-led local administration in Lahore have been blasted in the media over the deal. Pakistan's powerful army and the intelligence agencies, which are rarely publicly criticized, have also been attacked. Few believe that releasing Davis would have been possible without their permission and involvement.

Responding to the criticism, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the country had agreed that the Davis case would be decided in the courts. "It is therefore inappropriate to hold any single institution responsible for the final outcome of the case," he said.

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