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Pakistan Is Wary Over New U.S. Policy

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on April 6, 2009

The American allegations and the Pakistani response are, to a certain degree, an effort by both sides to stake out their positions as they prepare to thrash out the details of the benchmarks to be set under U.S. President Barack Obama’s new strategy for overcoming the Taliban and al Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The stakes for both sides are enormous. American officials say the war in Afghanistan will be decided in the Pakistani tribal borderlands where the Taliban and al Qaeda dominate. Islamic militants, meanwhile, are stepping up their attacks in Pakistan’s heartland, prompting U.S. and Pakistani officials to warn that the country’s very existence is at risk.

Illustrating the threat, a senior Pakistani Taliban commander, Hakimullah Mehsud, warned Sunday that the militants would carry out two suicide attacks a week like the one seen a day earlier in Pakistan’s capital unless the U.S. stops launching missile strikes against militant leaders in the mountains along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. In Saturday’s attack, a suicide bomber penetrated a paramilitary police post in the heavily guarded heart of Islamabad, killing eight people just kilometers from the presidential palace.

Hours earlier, a suicide car bomber wounded three soldiers at the gate of an army base in the tribal areas. And on Sunday, a suicide bombing at a crowded Shiite Muslim mosque south of Islamabad killed at least 22 people. Those two attacks appeared to be unrelated to Mr. Mehsud’s threat, made in a phone call to the Associated Press from an undisclosed location.

The new U.S. policy includes billions of dollars in fresh military and development aid for Islamabad. Washington says it plans to closely monitor how the money is spent. Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. State Department’s special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, are due in Islamabad this week for the first face-to-face talks between top officials from the two countries since Mr. Obama announced his plan late last month.

With Pakistani officials frustrated at what they say are heavy-handed American efforts to dictate strategy for fighting the militants, officials on both sides are trying to head off a breakdown in relations that could scuttle the Obama administration’s ambitious plans.

“I refuse to accept the premise, a false premise, that the Pakistani state is the problem,” said a senior Pakistani official in a recent interview, his upper lip quivering in anger. “Any diplomatic strategy that is premised on this will not work.”

The official said private meetings with senior officials from the new U.S. administration have so far been cordial. But that tone wouldn’t last if the public accusations against Pakistan persisted, the official said.

While both sides agree on the broader aim of neutralizing Islamic militants, the latest back-and-forth between U.S. and Pakistani officials is a reminder that eight years after the U.S. fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda began, sharp differences remain over the best way to defeat them.

“Pakistan and the United States are partners with a legacy of mutual mistrust,” said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. “There is an ongoing effort to bring to an end the concerns from the past.”

U.S. officials say they, too, are working to buttress what are generally considered good relations. Officials from both sides say military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries is as close as ever, pointing to Islamabad’s quiet support for the missile-strike campaign.

But at the same time, Washington’s renewed frustration with Islamabad has become increasingly clear amid a flurry of statements by top American officials about the need for Pakistan’s military and Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency to sever their remaining links to the Islamic militant groups they nurtured for the past three decades. They nurtured the groups to exert influence in Afghanistan and battle Indian forces in contested Kashmir.

The American allegations — denied by Pakistani officials — and demands for better oversight of U.S. aid to Pakistan have been aired on-and-off by U.S. officials throughout the past eight years.

But the timing of the recent statements, coming after months of relatively warm public statements and just as the revamped U.S. strategy was announced, has angered Pakistani officials.

“The Obama administration should not worry about the proper use of its aid,” Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters recently. “How can they say that they want accountability? We have sacrificed much more than what they have sacrificed. We have sacrificed our soldiers…. We have sacrificed our economy. What else do they want?”

Pakistan insists its efforts to cut deals with some Taliban factions while taking on others can, over the long term, bring peace to the region.

American officials say they are deeply skeptical about that strategy, in large part because Islamabad has been hesitant to go after the Taliban factions attacking U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, and instead has been focusing on militants who are sowing violence in Pakistan.

U.S. officials attribute that reluctance partly to their claim that some elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies still see the militants as useful assets and continue to aid them.

Pakistani officials privately acknowledge maintaining contacts for intelligence-gathering purposes, but insist they provide no support to the militants.

‘They have been very attached to many of these extremist organizations, and it’s my belief that in the long run, they have got to completely cut ties with those in order to really move in the right direction,” Adm. Mullen said recently on “The Charlie Rose Show” on PBS.

Meanwhile, an American U.N. worker abducted more than two months ago headed home Sunday, a day after being released unharmed by a separatist group in the province of Baluchistan.

John Solecki, a senior official with United Nations’ refugee agency, was discovered Saturday evening abandoned in a remote village, pleading, “Help me, help me.”

His captors — the previously unknown Baluchistan Liberation United Front — had threatened to behead Mr. Solecki, who was abducted Feb. 2 in Quetta, Baluchistan’s capital.

—Zahid Hussain in Islamabad contributed to this article

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