Pakistan to snub US meeting on Afghanistan

Pakistan will boycott meeting in protest at a US drone attack that killed 35.

Islamabad: Pakistan said on Friday it will boycott a key meeting on Afghanistan`s security in protest at a US drone attack that killed 35 people, as fragile relations between the allies again faltered.

A Foreign Ministry statement said US Ambassador Cameron Munter was summoned and told that Pakistan would not attend the March 26 meeting in Brussels with officials from Washington and Kabul, in response to Thursday`s drone strike.

The move came after Pakistan`s civilian and military leaders condemned the strike against a militant hideout in the North Waziristan tribal region, demanding an apology and explanation from the United States.

Intelligence sources in Peshawar said 12 Pakistani Taliban militants were killed in the attack.

But civilians and police were also among the dead when missiles ploughed into a compound in Datta Khel, 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Miranshah, the main town in tribal North Waziristan, security officials said.

The trilateral annual talks, in which ministers and other top officials outline progress on issues such as the war in Afghanistan -- which shares a border with Pakistan -- had been planned for last month in Washington.

But the US postponed those discussions after failed attempts to secure the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who was accused of double murder and had been held in Lahore.

Munter was also told "that such (drone) strikes were not only unacceptable but also constituted a flagrant violation of humanitarian norms and law”, the ministry said.

Frosty relations with the US appeared to have thawed on Wednesday after a Pakistan court freed Davis following the payment of USD 2 million in blood money to the families of the dead.

His release sparked protests from thousands of Pakistanis on Friday, with festering anti-US sentiment among demonstrators further inflamed by Thursday`s missile strike.

Some 3,000 people rallied outside Islamabad`s Red Mosque, a reporter said, chanting slogans including "Down with America" and "Hang Zardari", a reference to unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari who has called for US ties to be maintained.

More than 1,500 people protested in the eastern city of Lahore where some burned US flags.

US drones have frequently targeted Datta Khel, known as a stronghold of the Taliban commander and al Qaeda-linked warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadar, and the Peshawar official said the militants hit were members of the Pakistani Taliban.

The ministry said that Munter was met by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir who conveyed "a strong protest" over the drone attack.

"It was evident that the fundamentals of our relations need to be revisited. Pakistan should not be taken for granted nor treated as a client state," the statement said.

"It was for the White House and the State Department to hold back those who have been trying to veer Pakistan-US relationship away from the track."

Ambassador Munter said he would swiftly take its message to the US administration, the ministry said.

A security official said the missile strike killed about two dozen civilians, including tribal leaders and elders.

"They were part of a jirga or council of tribal elders, mediating a dispute between two local tribes in Datta Khel district," a security official said.

The jirga had been convened to resolve a feud over the ownership of a disputed mine in the region, residents said.

"The drones appeared about 30 minutes after the jirga started and fired four missiles at the gathering of 50-60 people. I was wounded and fell unconscious," Inamullah Khan, who lost a leg, said at a state-run hospital in Miranshah.

Missile attacks doubled in the area last year to more than 100, killing over 670 people in 2010 compared with 45 strikes that killed 420 in 2009, according to a tally.

Most have been concentrated in North Waziristan, the most notorious Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda bastion in Pakistan, where the United States wants the Pakistan military to launch a ground offensive as soon as possible.

Pakistan says its troops are too overstretched to launch an assault.

Bureau Report

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