- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan pulled out of a meeting next week in Germany on the future of Afghanistan to protest the deadly attack by U.S.-led forces on its troops, widening the fallout on Tuesday from an incident that has sent ties between Washington and Islamabad into a tailspin.

Meanwhile, a top Pakistani army general called Saturday’s incident that killed 24 troops on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border a “deliberate act of aggression” by NATO forces and said the military had not decided whether to take part in a U.S. investigation into it.

Both developments bode ill for future Pakistani cooperation with U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and reflect the hard-line being taken by the army, which is under pressure by an anti-American public to respond forcefully.

NATO has described the incident as “tragic and unintended,” and U.S. officials have expressed their sympathies with the families of those who died.

The decision to skip the conference in Bonn, which has been a year in the planning, will trigger concerns in Washington and Kabul that Pakistan is withdrawing from international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before and after the withdrawal of foreign combat forces in 2014.

It was taken during a Pakistani Cabinet meeting in the city of Lahore, said three officials who attended the meeting. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media ahead of an official announcement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she understands Pakistan’s reason for not attending, but that she hopes it would reconsider its decision.

“They should still understand that the Afghanistan conference is a very important one. It’s a very good opportunity to bring forward the political process,” Mrs. Merkel said.

Pakistan, which has long had a troubled relationship with Washington, already has closed its two crossings on the western border to trucks delivering supplies to NATO troops in landlocked Afghanistan, and said it will review all cooperation with NATO and the United States.

Monday’s Bonn meeting is to bring together Western and regional leaders to forge a strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and smooth the planned U.S. withdrawal from the country in 2014.

Pakistan is perhaps the most important regional country because of its influence on Afghan Taliban factions on its soil, and U.S. and Pakistani officials had been urging Islamabad to attend.

There have been conflicting versions of what led to the attack by NATO aircraft on Saturday, though most Afghan and Western accounts say it was likely a case of friendly fire, launched after a joint Afghan and U.S. special forces team received fire from the Pakistani side of the border.

But Pakistani army Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem on Tuesday called the incident a “deliberate act of aggression” and said it was “next to impossible that NATO” did not know they were attacking Pakistani forces. Gen. Nadeem made the remarks to a briefing of Pakistani news anchors, senior journalists and defense analysts at army headquarters.