Wednesday, April 13, 2011

US-Pak ties facing biggest crisis since 9/11

WASHINGTON: US- Pakistan ties are heading towards their biggest crisis since the 9/11 attacks, owing to bitter disputes over covert CIA activities and drone attacks inside Pakistan, lack of progress over Afghan peace talks and rising Islamist-led opposition to the foreign forces' presence in the region, according to Pakistani politicians, intelligence officers and army sources. 

The already strained US-Pak relations served another blow by a new White House report released last week, which gave a harshly critical assessment of Pakistan's efforts towards "defeating the insurgency" thriving in the country, painting a grim picture of the deficits in Pakistan's counter-terrorism efforts. 

"We will not accept the stigmatising of Pakistan... We need to re-examine the fundamentals of our relationship with the United States to get greater clarity. There has been a pause. Now we must start again," The Guardian quoted Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, as saying. 

Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the Americans should stop blaming others for their difficulties in Afghanistan, where violence has worsened in the past year and reconciliation efforts have made little progress. 

"If the strategy is not right, all the stakeholders have to share responsibility," said Malik. 

"We are not just fighting for Pakistan, we are fighting for the whole world. If this country is destabilised, the whole region is destabilised ... so please, stop the blame game. We are your partners. We are victims, not part of the terrorists." 

CIA's drone attacks at targets inside Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan have inflamed anti-US sentiments in the country, making it increasingly difficult to justify the continuing "war on terror" alliance, a senior security official said. 

"In the long term, it [the drone attacks] is completely counter-productive because it alienates the population and restricts our ability to shape our security environment," the official added. 

US criticism of Pakistan centres on ongoing suspicions that its spy agency- the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI)- continues to support the Taliban and other militant groups active in Afghanistan and Kashmir, partly in a bid to retain influence over a post-withdrawal government in Kabul, the report said. 

Following the Raymond Davis episode and a drone attack killing dozens of civilians in North Waziristan last month, Pakistan has moved to expel hundreds of US personnel- many of whom are believed to work for the CIA or US special operations- by not renewing their visas. 

The rift comes at a dangerous moment for the US and its NATO allies as the Afghan conflict enters the "endgame", and begin the process of handing over security control to Afghan forces and start troops withdrawal in July. 

In a tacit acknowledgement of how serious the rift has become, the US invited ISI chief General Ahmed Shuja Pasha for talks in Washington this week, said the report, noting that there have been no further drone attacks since the North Waziristan strike.

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