Pakistan military abandons US trips after being 'mistaken for terrorists'
Published 02/09/2010 | 12:08
A delegation of Pakistani military officers has abandoned a trip to the US after being mistaken for terrorists and ordered off an airliner.
The eight officers, led by a two-star Navy rear admiral, were on their way to a meeting at US Central Command.
They had boarded a United Airlines Flight from Washington to Tampa on Monday but were taken off the aircraft because of comments made by one of the men, according to an airline spokesman.
Pakistani officials said the officer, weary from the journey to the US, had said, "I hope this is the final plane to the destination" causing a female passenger, who believed he was threatening the aircraft, to panic.
Major General Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistan military, said the officers had been cleared by subsequent security inspections.
"However, as a result of these checks, military authorities in Pakistan decided to cancel the visit and called the delegation back," the army said in a statement.
The dispute appeared to be a sign of the mistrust between the US and Pakistani military, which claimed the delegation had been subjected to "unwarranted checks".
Washington views Islamabad as a vital part of its strategy to tackle militants in Afghanistan and deprive them of havens in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt.
The US has delivered billions of dollars of aid since Pakistan signed up to its fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
However, suspicions run deep on both sides.
On Tuesday, General David Petraeus, Nato's top commander in Afghanistan, repeated allegations that Pakistan's military is continuing to support extremist groups.
He said he supported the concerns aired recently by the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, and his national security adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, about Pakistan's role in the conflict.
"Given the very clear linkage between attacks on Afghan soil by individuals who have come from Pakistan and are commanded and controlled from Pakistan, I think President Karzai and Dr Spanta have very legitimate concerns," he said.
Similar comments by David Cameron sparked a diplomatic row with Britain last month and have led to a block on British military aid.
At the same time, many Pakistanis are suspicious of the presence of American troops in their country.
And Pakistani officers feel their contribution to tackling insurgents is often overlooked by their American counterparts.
Imtiaz Gul, director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, said recent criticism had made officers particularly sensitive to snubs.
"At the same time, this reflects a deep-seated mistrust and suspicion of the Pakistan military establishment which is vented at every opportunity," he said.
A spokesman for the American embassy in Islamabad said talks were under way to reschedule the visit.