By Augustine Anthony
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan told the United States Friday it would not attend a meeting on Afghanistan later this month, angered by a U.S. missile strike that killed 41 people and drew rare condemnation from the country's powerful military chief.
Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir lodged a strong protest with U.S. ambassador Cameron Munter who was summoned to the foreign office a day after the attack in the Datta Khel region of North Waziristan, a spokeswoman said.
"Ambassador Munter was also conveyed that under the current circumstances, Pakistan would not be able to participate in the trilateral meeting between Afghanistan-Pakistan-U.S.," the spokeswoman said in a statement
"It was evident that the fundamentals of our relations need to be revisited. Pakistan should not be taken for granted nor treated as a client state," the statement said.
The United States had proposed the trilateral meeting in Brussels on March 26 to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, according to the statement.
Earlier, Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani in a rare public display of displeasure with the United States condemned the drone strike as "unjustifiable and intolerable."
"It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life," said in statement issued late Thursday.
The death toll in Thursday's attack was one of the highest in a drone missile strike and came just one day after the release of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who was acquitted of two counts of murder in the eastern city of Lahore.
He was released after the families of the victims accepted 100 million rupees each in compensation or "blood money."
Davis shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore on January 27 after what he described as an attempted armed robbery. The United States had repeatedly called for his release, saying he had diplomatic immunity.
Kayani's statement on the strike likely will be interpreted by religious groups as a signal of the army's displeasure over the Davis deal and encourage their protests scheduled for after prayers Friday, analysts said.
"His negative comments have also encouraged a lot of people from the political right to be more active in today's protests," said Hassan Askari Rizvi, an independent political analyst.
"Perhaps the military wanted to distance itself from what has been done. It is politically motivated statement."
Datta Khel is a stronghold of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a Taliban commander who harbours and sends militants across the border to fight Western forces in Afghanistan.
There were conflicting accounts about the attack.
One official said the missiles targeted a house of elders loyal to Bahadur trying to mediate between two warring militant groups inside. One of Bahadur's commanders, a local elder, was believed killed in the attack.
Another official said the drone attacked a vehicle in the area that was passing by a house where local tribesmen were holding a business meeting, killing them.
The United States has been attacking al Qaeda-linked militants for the past few years in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas using drones, which are a source of worry for the government because civilians casualties inflame public anger and bolster support for the militants.
Washington has in recent months mounted pressure on Pakistan, its nuclear-armed ally, to go after militants in North Waziristan, using Pakistani sanctuaries to plot attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has said it will do so but on its own schedule and when adequate resources are available.
There had been speculation that Davis' release had marked a rapprochement between the Pakistani and American spy agencies, making a North Waziristan operation more likely. But Rizvi said Kayani's statement, which will fuel anger at the United States among Pakistanis, makes such an operation politically impossible for the foreseeable future.
"This puts an end to any talk of an imminent North Waziristan operation," he said.
(Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony in Islamabad and Haji Mujtaba in Miranshah; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
(For more Reuters coverage of Pakistan, see: http://www.reuters.com/places/pakistan)