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Accord in Washington Fails to Ease Tension in Pakistan


Pakistan and the United States have agreed to improve communication, following this month's U.S. missile strike in one of Pakistan's tribal regions that reportedly killed at least a dozen people while targeting al-Qaida militants. But, the attack continues to fuel anti-American protests in Pakistan.

Speaking after their White House meeting Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and President Bush emphasized the strength and importance of the U.S.-Pakistani alliance.

Mr. Aziz, who spent nearly two hours with the president discussing a wide range of issues, thanked Mr. Bush for U.S. assistance after last October's deadly Himalayan earthquake.

He also stressed Pakistan's commitment to fighting terrorism.

"We want to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations," he said. "Our coalition with the United States in fighting terror is very important to all of the world."

President Bush praised Pakistan's anti-terror efforts, and announced a planned visit to Pakistan and India in March.

But despite the public display of good will in Washington, political analysts say anti-American feelings are strong in Pakistan.

Fueling that sentiment is the controversy over this month's air strike targeting al-Qaida leaders in the tribal region of Bajaur, near the Afghan border.

It is unclear if the missile attack, allegedly from unmanned U.S. aircraft, killed any members of the terrorist organization. Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf says there are indications that some al-Qaida members died in the strike. It did kill at least a dozen Pakistanis, sparking massive anti-U.S. rallies throughout the country.

Monday, government security forces prevented hundreds of protesters from traveling to the village that came under attack.

Political analyst Ayaz Amir says the incident is a potent symbol for Islamic groups that oppose Pakistan's support for the U.S-led war on terror.

Far from easing tensions, he says, the prime minister's visit to Washington provides such groups with fresh ammunition.

"He is striking absolutely the wrong notes," said Ayaz Amir, "People in Pakistan are upset. And in the midst of this, to have not even the faintest apology from the United States - I do not know how many decibels it adds to the angst among the Pakistani public."

Washington has not publicly acknowledged a role in the attack, but senior officials have promised to address Pakistani concerns over the incident.

Opposition parties are demanding a U.S. apology, while an alliance of Islamic parties from the Pakistani tribal region passed legislation in the provincial assembly calling for the expulsion of the American ambassador.

Pakistan's federal government says it will not expel the U.S. diplomat, but it has condemned the incident, saying that such acts undermine bilateral relations.