Pakistan today demanded an “apology and explanation” from the U.S. for drone strikes in its tribal belt that Pakistani officials said killed 41 people, including members of a tribal jirga and personnel from a government militia force.

“The government of Pakistan strongly condemns (the) drone attacks which have resulted in a large number of casualties. This is not only unacceptable but also a flagrant violation of all humanitarian rules and norms,” Foreign Office spokesperson Tehmina Janjua said in a statement issued after midnight.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir had conveyed “this strong condemnation to U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter” and “demanded an apology and explanation”, Tehmina Janjua said.

In Washington, Pakistan’s Ambassador Hussain Haqqani too made a “strong demarche” with the U.S. State Department and registered a protest over the deadly drone attack, describing it as “unacceptable” and a “flagrant violation” of humanitarian norms and laws.

Mr. Haqqani too “demanded an apology and explanation” from the U.S. government on Thursday’s attack in Datta Khel region near Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan agency.

The attack was the deadliest drone strike in North Waziristan Agency since August 2008 and the seventh such attack in nine days.

President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani strongly condemned the drone attack.

In a statement, Mr. Gilani said the attack “will only strengthen the hands of radical and extremist elements“.

Mr. Gilani said, “Such irrational behaviour negatively impact the efforts to separate the militants from the peaceful and patriotic tribesmen” and that “such attacks will bode very negatively on our joint efforts to eliminate the menace of terrorism“.

Mr. Kayani, in a strongly worded statement, said, “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.”

He added that “such acts of violence take us away from our objective of elimination of terrorism”.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Governor Masood Kausar, who is responsible for the administration of the tribal areas, said the drones targeted a tribal council and killed tribesmen and members of the local government militia force.

The attack by the CIA-operated spy planes came a day after a Pakistani court pardoned and freed American security contractor Raymond Davis, whose arrest in January on murder charges had taken ties between the two countries to a new low.

Raymond Davis was freed after over two million dollars was paid as “blood money” to the families of two men he had gunned down.

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