Pakistan-US relations remain on knife-edge

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A serious deadlock persisted between the United States (US) and Pakistan, as in response to Islamabad’s strong demands for drone attacks to be stopped, the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen on Wednesday ruled out an end to attacks by CIA’s pilot-less drones in the tribal areas and also urged Islamabad to stop supporting the most influential Taliban group, the Haqqani network, allegedly based in North Waziristan.
Admiral Mullen, who held crucial meetings here on Wednesday with Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman General Khalid Shamim Wynne and Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and asked Pakistan to stop its “support for the Haqqani network”, a Taliban group headed by veteran Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj Haqqani, both of whom are on the US’ most wanted terrorists list.
In these meetings, Pakistan’s military leadership denied the repeated US allegations of Islamabad’s support for any Taliban group, including the Haqqani network, and once again asked the US to stop drone attacks, which it said were impacting ties between the most important states in US led anti-terrorism campaign. “Admiral Mullen, however, said that the drone strikes would go on as they have proven to be highly effective in taking out Al Qaeda and Taliban militants,” said an official here requesting anonymity.
Mullen’s talks with the Pakistan military’s top brass thus did not yield any positive results. “These talks remained inconclusive,” the official said. “Mullen talked tough and especially the serious but unfounded allegations against the ISI that he came up with, well how can you expect any positive outcome of talks after that?” he said. Mullen also raised the issue publicly in his interviews here on Wednesday.
In an interview with a private TV channel, Mullen said the ISI had a “long-standing relationship with the Haqqani network; that does not mean everybody in ISI but it is there.” Mullen also said Pakistan’s perceived “foot-dragging” in tackling militant strongholds in North Waziristan belonging to the Haqqani network and its continued relationship with the group was “the most difficult part” of the US-Pakistani relationship.
“Haqqani is supporting, funding, training fighters that are killing Americans and killing coalition partners. And I have a sacred obligation to do all I can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Mullen. The Pakistani official said the country’s military leadership was highly displeased with the US allegations and that had been conveyed candidly to Mullen.
“Throughout the visit, the admiral emphasised the long-term US commitment to supporting Pakistan in its fight against violent extremists,” said a US embassy statement issued here on Wednesday. But support did not mean the US military chief agreed with the state of affairs as they stood. He termed the US-Pakistan relationship as “complex” and unlikely to be improved overnight. “There is not a magic solution,” he said.
He added that relations between the two countries suffered from the trust deficit arising out of the US policy to abandon the region in the 1990s. Mullen’s statement ahead of a meeting with General Kayani “will not help improve the atmosphere”, said a Pakistani security official. “We have our own priorities and cannot launch an operation in North Waziristan on American pressure,” he added.
Mullen, however, did acknowledge that Haqqani “is having a much more difficult time now”. “All that said, we’re still working through the (Pakistani) military support, the way through the relationships the ISI has with the Haqqani network, and the strain that creates,” he added. There were complementary operations either side of the border, but he acknowledged that he did not know “at what level they are tied in to the ISI”.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official rejected any suggestion of collusion. “I don’t know what kind of relationship he’s talking about. If he means we’re providing them with protection, with help, that’s not correct,” he said. “Even if you are enemies, you have a relationship,” he told Reuters. He said Pakistan had attacked Haqqani’s positions and raided his mosques in the past.
“Right now, we are not attacking him because we are fully engaged against another group, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),” he said. In an interview with a private TV channel, Mullen said that tension in relations between Pakistan and the US would be perilous for the whole region. He said despite the tensions, the US could not terminate relations with Pakistan. “I am determined to sustain the relationship between Pakistan and United States,” he said.
NO END TO DRONE ATTACKS: A US official in Islamabad said, however, that the US would not abandon its drone programme in Pakistan but how it went forward was a matter for US and Pakistani intelligence and military officials to determine. “The program is something that we have said we go ahead on.
The question is how. And that process is going to be something that’s going to be one of the main tasks that our intel and our military guys have,” the official said.

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