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Talks with Pakistan on NATO supply route stalled as US withdraws team

The US has pulled out of negotiations with Pakistan to reopen NATO supply lines. One of the sticking points was the conviction of the Pakistani doctor who helped the US track Osama bin Laden. 

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Tribal documents have subsequently revealed that Dr. Afridi was sentenced for actively supporting the banned militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam, and its leader Mangal Bagh. In a text message to journalists, Lashkar-e-Islam denied the link. In a press briefing, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the alleged link “doesn't change [the US] view” and that the US will continue to “urge the Pakistani Government to consider his appeal.”

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“The Americans have hardened their positions after the Afridi case. They were furious. Dr. Afridi's conviction came at a bad time and set us back in our negotiations with the US,” says Fawad Chaudhury, an adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

The recent negotiations come after a year of an increasingly deteriorating relationship. The deaths of three Pakistanis in the hands of CIA agents in the beginning of last year, the US Navy Seal raid that killed bin Laden and was seen as a breach of Pakistan's sovereignty, and the border attack in November have been detrimental to the partnership.

During a visit to Afghanistan last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the US was “reaching the limits of patience” with Pakistan for providing militant havens. His comments came on the back of a two-day tour of India – Pakistan's key adversary in the region – where he announced that the US would continue much-criticized drone attacks in Pakistan a day after a CIA strike killed Al Qaeda's No. 2, Abu Yahya al-Libi.

Next, Pakistan's Foreign Office issued a statement Saturday saying that Mr. Panetta was “oversimplifying.” The statement went on to call Panetta’s comment “misplaced and unhelpful in bringing about peace and stability in the region.”

Then there were reports that Army Gen. Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani refused to meet Assistant Defense Secretary Peter Levoy when the latter landed in Islamabad for three days of negotiations, with an alleged stern message to Pakistan's civil and military leaders.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also voiced concern over the impasse.

“We look to the United States and Pakistan to work successfully together. And of greater concern to us, even than those lines of communication, would be a rift between the United States and Pakistan,” said Mr. Hague at a press briefing on Tuesday.

Also today, a senior US official told Reuters that Pakistan should "bite the bullet" and re-open the routes to ease tensions with the US.

Mr. Chaudhury, however, remains hopeful.

“The negotiations have not stalled. The team is going to return, and we will hopefully reach a conclusion to this issue very soon,” says Chaudhury.

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