PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) -The US mission in northwest Pakistan withdrew an invitation to an Independence Day reception to the speaker of the provincial legislature because he allowed prayers for the slain leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, officials said.
Speaker Bakhat Jehan Khan was invited for the reception in Peshawar on Saturday but just before the ceremony was told that he would not be welcomed, senior US diplomat Michael Spangler told AFP.
“I sent a letter to … Khan expressing deep shock over allowing fateha (prayer) for Al-Zarqawi and informing him I was unable to welcome him to our 7/1 official reception,” Spangler said.
Khan presided over the North West Frontier Province assembly which is dominated by pro-Taliban Islamist MPs who collectively offered condolence prayers for Al-Zarqawi on June 21.
Zarqawi, who was Iraq’s most wanted man with a 25 million dollar bounty on his head, was killed in a US air strike on June 7 near the restive city of Baquba, north of Baghdad.
The Islamists have tried to impose a Taliban-style rule North West Frontier Province since 2002 when they rose to power on anti-American sentiment after the US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan.
Pakistan is battling the remnants of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who sneaked into in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.