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Clinton calls Pakistan over 'tragic' strike

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Many Pakistanis expressed rage over another perceived US attack on the country's sovereignty [AFP]Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has expressed condolences to Pakistan's prime minister in the wake of a NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani troops and has caused one of the most serious rifts between the two countries in recent years.

In her call with Yousuf Raza Gilani, Clinton "reiterated America's respect for Pakistan's sovereignty and commitment to working together in pursuit of shared objectives on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect," according to a statement released by the state department on Saturday.

"She once again expressed condolences to the families of the soldiers and to the Pakistani people for the tragic and unintended loss of life," the statement said.

The incident on November 26 has sparked rage in Pakistan, where citizens are already angry over their government's perceived obeisance to US interests, especially the wide latitude given to US drone attacks and special operations inside the country.

Military may now return fire

In response, Pakistan has so far refused to take part in a US probe into the air strike. It has also shut down a vital NATO supply line into Afghanistan and boycotted an international conference in Bonn focused on how to move forward after the coming US withdrawal.

A statement from PM Gilani's office said that he told Clinton that Pakistan's non-attendance in Bonn was not open to review, as it had been approved by the parliament's national security committee.

The committee "has supported the decision of the cabinet not to participate in the Bonn conference," the statement quoted Gilani as saying, adding that parliament was also looking into the broader relationship with Washington.

The Pakistani government has already given military commanders the authority to return fire on the border without first seeking permission, a change in the rules of engagement.

It has also ordered American personnel to leave Shamsi Air Base, widely understood to have been a hub for a covert drone war on Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders in Pakistan's troubled border areas with Afghanistan.

The strike was precipitated by the presence near the Pakistani border of an Afghan-led assault force that included US troops. The force was "hunting militants" and came under fire from a Pakistani military encampment it did not know was there, Reuters has reported.

Thinking the fire came from anti-government fighters, the force called in an air strike, which was reportedly approved by the Pakistani government. Pakistan has denied authorising the strike.

Bonn conference

In Bonn, the same city where a similar meeting in 2001 installed current Afghan President Hamid Karzai as the head of Afghanistan's then interim government, dignitaries have already begun arriving and are taking part in preliminary meetings ahead of the summit.

In comments to the German newspaper Der Spiegel that are due to be published on Monday, Karzai said that Pakistan had been undermining Afghan and US attempts to negotiate with the Taliban.

"Up until now, they have sadly refused to back efforts for negotiations with the Taliban," Karzai said.

He said that if the transition in Afghanistan was not properly managed, "it will mean a return to the situation before 9/11", referring to the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 that prompted the invasion of Afghanistan.

He also conceded that his government had so far not been able to secure the country.

"Sadly we have not been able to provide security and stability to all Afghans - this is our greatest failure," he said.

Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, said on Saturday that stability and reconciliation in Afghanistan was in the interests of the international community as well as those in the region.

In attendance in Bonn will be President Karzai and Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, as well as the foreign ministers of several other countries involved in the war.

The transition of Afghanistan to full Afghan control, particularly in terms of security responsibilities but also with respect to its economy, will top the agenda.

Westerwelle said that trying to impose other countries' interests on an Afghan outcome would ultimately be counterproductive.

"Stability and reconciliation in Afghanistan will be a precondition for positive and prosperous development of the whole region," he said.

"I am deeply convinced that these short-term thoughts, which are discussed in some circles, will not be successful.

"I think it is not only in the interest of international community, not only in [the interest of] Afghanistan and Afghan people, it is the interest of all the neighbours.

"May be some are reluctant. I have to say, if someone would have hidden agenda, it would be counterproductive for their own national interest," he told reporters in Bonn.

Zalmai Rasoul, the Afghan foreign minister, meanwhile, has appealed for the international community to continue to support his government after the withdrawal of foreign troops, currently scheduled for 2014.

"[The] international community, as far as I know, will not leave us alone," said Rasoul.

"All these partnerships, post-2014, are to reassure the Afghan people that they are going to continue to have the privilege of achievements that we had together.

"But we are also going to strengthen this partnership in the future.".


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