Drone Strikes Continue in Pakistan as Tension Increases and Senate Panel Cuts Aid

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- As tension between Pakistan and the United States deepened on multiple fronts on Thursday, a Senate panel voted to cut aid to Pakistan further, and C.I.A. drone strikes continued in northwestern Pakistan for a second consecutive day despite Pakistani condemnation.

Relations have worsened in recent days over Pakistan's refusal to reopen NATO supply lines that were closed down in November. The issue led President Obama to refuse to hold a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday at the NATO summit meeting in Chicago, administration officials said, in a clear diplomatic slight.

A new issue arose when a Pakistani tribal court sentenced a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to 33 years in prison on Wednesday for treason after he helped the C.I.A. locate Osama bin Laden's hide-out in Pakistan last year. In Washington, administration officials and members of Congress reacted with fury over the sentencing.

The Senate, which had already slashed foreign aid to Pakistan, moved on Thursday to cut an additional $33 million in military assistance, $1 million for each year Dr. Afridi was sentenced. Senator John McCain of Arizona, ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said, "All of us are outraged at the imprisonment and sentence of some 33 years, virtually a death sentence, to the doctor in Pakistan who was instrumental -- not on purpose, but was instrumental and completely innocent of any wrongdoing" in the raid that killed Bin Laden.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also condemned the sentence, saying the administration had raised the case with Pakistan and would continue. "We regret both the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence," she said at the State Department. "His help, after all, was instrumental in taking down one of the world's most notorious murderers. That was clearly in Pakistan's interests as well as ours and the rest of the world."

In northwestern Pakistan, an American drone struck militant hide-outs, killing 7 to 10 people believed to have been militants, Pakistani officials and local residents said Thursday.

Thursday's strike occurred in Hasso Khe in the Lar Dewar area of North Waziristan, an area considered a redoubt of local and foreign militants. Most of the militants killed in the strike were Uzbek fighters who belonged to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, said local residents who were reached by telephone.

A strike the day before, in the village of Datta Khel Kalai, also in North Waziristan, killed four suspected militants, The Associated Press reported, citing Pakistani intelligence officials.

The American drone strikes are immensely unpopular in Pakistan and have caused increasing friction between the two countries. While the United States views the remotely piloted aircraft as vital in the fight against militants, the drones are seen as a breach of national sovereignty that also cause civilian deaths.

Politicians across the Pakistani political spectrum have been unanimous in their criticism of the strikes. A spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Affairs Ministry on Thursday called the continued strikes against international law, adding, "They are illegal, counterproductive and totally unacceptable."

The Pakistani Parliament has made ending the drone campaign a requirement for restoring access to NATO's supply lines that run through Pakistan to Afghanistan, despite signals from senior government and military officials last week that they were ready to allow a deal to go through, albeit only at a much higher transit fee for each NATO container.

The supply lines were cut off in November after an American airstrike mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, and Mr. Obama has refused to meet Pakistani demands for an apology.

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Washington, and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad. Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Washington, and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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