Islamabad: Pakistan`s military cancelled a trip by officers to an annual meeting at US Central Command after they were taken off a plane and subjected to "unwarranted security checks" in Washington, an Army spokesman said.
The incident could complicate already sensitive military relations between the US and Pakistan, which are in an uneasy alliance in the fight against Taliban and al Qaeda militants. And it could fall to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen to try to smooth over the issue when he meets on Thursday with Pakistani Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and others.
However, Capt John Kirby, a spokesman for Mullen, said on Wednesday that the chairman "believes this is an issue better addressed by the airlines and has no intention of raising it with Pakistani officials."
During Mullen`s daylong visit to Pakistan, he hopes to get an update on Pakistan-US cooperation in bringing relief to victims of the country`s devastating floods.
The nine-member Pakistani delegation, headed by a two-star Navy rear admiral, was already aboard United Airlines Flight 727 at Dulles International Airport awaiting take-off to Tampa, Fla — where Central Command is based — when the incident took place on Monday, said Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas.
The delegation was taken off the plane and subjected to "unwarranted security checks" that resulted in their missing their flight, Abbas said. They then called military authorities in Pakistan who instructed them to return home, he said.
One of the officers reportedly had told a flight attendant that he hoped the flight was his last, in reference to their long day`s travel from Islamabad. The comment prompted concern and security officials were notified, and the delegation was taken off the plane.
After the matter was straightened out and a decision was made that the passengers could continue their trip, the airline offered to rebook their flight for the next day, said United spokesman Mike Trevino in Chicago.
Increased checks at US airports in response to the threat from Islamist militants after the September 11 attacks are sensitive for many Pakistanis, who complain they are being unfairly singled out.
A group of Pakistani lawmakers on a State Department-sponsored visit to the United States in March returned home early after complaining of excessive security checks and were hailed as heroes by sections of the media on their return.
The United States has given the Pakistani Army billions of dollars over the last 10 years to help it better fight militancy, but the country is very unpopular among many ordinary Pakistanis.
The delegation was the Pakistani contingent of this year`s US-Pakistan Military Consultative Committee meeting, an annual session where the two nation`s outline military-to-military programs for the following year, said Marine Maj David Nevers, a Centcom spokesman in Tampa.
US officials are trying to reschedule the meeting with Pakistanis, he said.