Decision on Border Attack Adds to U.S.-Pakistan Tensions

The U.S. military’s decision not to discipline any service members for a Nov. 25 air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers comes at an important moment in the troubled relationship between the two nations.

While the attack has dogged relations for four months, the U.S. and Pakistan also are debating larger matters: the future of Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes on al-Qaeda and other targets in Pakistan, reopening Pakistani supply routes for NATO troops in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s position on negotiations between the U.S.-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban.

President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani are scheduled to meet tomorrow on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit meeting in Seoul, South Korea, the first high-level meeting of officials of the two countries since the Nov. 25 incident.

Pakistani President Asif Zardari yesterday met with Marc Grossman, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and demanded “greater transparency” in relations between the two countries and an end to the CIA drone strikes, the Press Trust of India reported.

Although no charges were expected in the border case because U.S. officials have said the Pakistanis fired first and the clash then arose from confusion and miscommunication, Pakistan’s military has issued a report placing full blame for the border clash on the U.S. forces and demanded an American apology.

Parliamentary Debate

A Pakistani parliamentary commission on national security reinforced the demand last week as the legislature’s upper and lower houses began a debate on the future of Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S.

The issues include whether to permit the drone strikes in Pakistan that have been a major element of the U.S. campaign against Islamic militants and whether to reopen the border crossings through which passed 40 percent of the supplies for U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The Taliban yesterday threatened to attack Pakistani lawmakers and their families if they support reopening the border crossings, which were closed after the attack on the Pakistani border post, the Associated Press reported.

Protest rallies led by religious parties have drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and other cities, each time pressing the Pakistani government not to back down. The rallies have been led by an alliance called the Difa-e-Pakistan (Pakistan Defense) Council.

Added Tension

Further compounding the political issues, news of the U.S. decision against disciplinary action in the border attack, first reported by the New York Times and confirmed by two U.S. officials, came a day after American military officials in neighboring Afghanistan paid hundreds of thousands of dollars as a gesture of restitution to families of 17 Afghans allegedly killed by a U.S. soldier in a March 11 rampage.

The compensation payments, reported by Afghan officials in Kandahar province, where the attacks occurred, are the latest of several conciliatory American gestures in Afghanistan over missteps by its forces there.

Obama apologized to Afghan President Karzai for that violence, as he did for a February incident in which American troops angered Afghans by throwing copies of the Koran, the Islamic scripture, into rubbish heaps to be burned.

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