- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman this week demanded that the White House apologize for a NATO assault on Pakistani forces and halt drone attacks on Pakistani territory, if Washington wants to improve relations with a nation many see as a key South Asian ally in the war on terrorism.

“We want our American friends to respect our sovereignty and territorial integrity. This means no drone attacks and no incursions into Pakistani territory,” she told the Pakistani-American Congress at a Capitol Hill forum Monday.

U.S.-Pakistani relations have deteriorated since NATO airships killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in a firefight along the border with Afghanistan in November and Navy commandos killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout six months earlier.

Pakistan retaliated by cutting off supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan and imposing a 33-year prison sentence on Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who had helped the CIA track down the al Qaeda leader.

In Washington, members of Congress responded by cutting nearly $1.5 billion from President Obama’s request for $2.27 billion in aid to Pakistan. The Senate Appropriations Committee this week proposed an additional cut of $33 million - a million dollars for each year of Dr. Afridi’s prison term.

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told Congress that the administration is “losing patience” with Pakistan over its support for Afghan Taliban militants and other terror groups in the lawless border region between the two countries.

In her speech to the Pakistan-American Congress, Ms. Rehman called for an “appropriate apology” from the White House for the NATO attack on Pakistani troops. The U.S. accuses Pakistani forces of firing first, while Pakistan claims its troops were attacked while they were sleeping.

Ms. Rehman complained that the U.S. fails to recognize Pakistan’s sacrifice in the war against terror, according to Pakistani news reports on the forum.

“We have helped arrest or neutralize nearly 250 al Qaeda members, provided the U.S. free use of our highways to transport supplies to Afghanistan,” she said.

“We have lost more than 37,000 Pakistanis to terrorism. Over 5,000 security and law enforcement personnel have laid down their lives fighting terrorism.”

Ms. Rehman expressed hope for improved relations with Washington but urged U.S. officials to stop blaming Pakistan for the problems.

“The first step in that direction must be to stay away from coercive diplomacy through the media,” she said.

‘CHILLING’ EFFECT

The United States is still concerned about political freedom in the Eurasian nation of Georgia more than two decades after it declared independence from the now-defunct Soviet Union, U.S. Ambassador John Bass said this week.

Mr. Bass, who is leaving Georgia after nearly three years at the U.S. Embassy in Tblisi, expressed his worries over a new campaign-finance law that could have “chilling” consequences on the political opposition.

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