Pakistan's prime minister visits Washington this week at a time of rising tension between the two allies, with thousands demonstrating regularly in Pakistan to denounce a U.S. airstrike that killed civilians earlier this month.
As Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz meets Monday with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and with President George W. Bush on Tuesday, Pakistani officials are taking care to affirm their loyalty to America in the war on terror.
But relations between Islamabad and Washington have sunk since the Jan. 13 attack that killed at least 13 civilians, including women and children. Anti-American rallies in Pakistan are entering their second week.
The attack, which destroyed three houses in the remote mountain hamlet of Damadola near the Afghan border, apparently targeted but missed al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri.
Aziz on Sunday condemned the airstrike, saying such attacks should be cleared with Islamabad before they are carried out.
A need to collaborate
U.S. and Pakistani officials, he said, have no understanding that allows American military forces to attack alleged terrorists in Pakistan without first consulting the government.
“The understanding is that we will work together,” Aziz told CNN’s “Late Edition.” “We will work in collaboration with each other.”
Aziz said Pakistani officials were given no notice before the attack, which was believed to have been launched by a missile-firing Predator drone from Afghanistan, where some 20,000 U.S. troops are based. Pakistan does not allow U.S. forces to pursue militants across the border or launch strikes without permission.
Pakistan, Aziz said, “has regretted and condemned the incident and said that such incidents should not reoccur. We need to work together. There is no difference in the objectives of the two countries, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t communicate.”
About 5,000 demonstrators assembled Sunday on a dry riverbed in a mountain market town near the site of the strike, shouting “Long live Osama bin Laden!” and “Death to America!” They also burned effigies of President George W. Bush.
Pakistani intelligence officials believe that four top al-Qaida operatives may have been killed in the strike including al-Qaida’s master bomb maker, Midhat Mursi, who has a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head.
‘No evidence’ that al-Qaida agents were killed
But Aziz said that “we have not found one body or one shred of evidence that these people were there,” referring to suspected terrorists.
Aziz also dismissed the notion that Pakistan was not informed in advance of the U.S. attack because of the view that some in the Pakistani military and intelligence community might sympathize with al-Qaida.
“If you see the number of lives we have lost chasing these terrorists, the number of people we have picked up all over the country, ... it shows that we have a very effective security apparatus, intelligence apparatus, which has delivered results,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer on Sunday defended America’s use of targeted attacks on suspected terrorists.
“They’re planning to do more damage, whether it’s in Europe or the Middle East or here in the United States,” Schumer said on CNN, referring to terrorists. “What we learned is that you can’t just play defense. You need a good offense and a good defense. I have no problem with doing it. I think we should.”
On Saturday, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf told visiting U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns that the airstrike cannot be repeated, a foreign ministry official said.
Musharraf, the official said, also assured Burns that Pakistan would not waver in its support for Washington’s war on terror.