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Pakistan, U.S. stress trust, disagree on drones
April 7, 2009 / 10:25 AM / 8 years ago

Pakistan, U.S. stress trust, disagree on drones

(Recasts with comment from news conference, changes byline)

By Augustine Anthony

ISLAMABAD, April 7 (Reuters) - Pakistan and the United States must build trust as they confront Islamist militant violence, said senior officials on Tuesday who failed to resolve disagreement on U.S. drone aircraft strikes in Pakistan.

Special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, held talks with Pakistani political and military leaders after arriving from Kabul late on Monday.

Holbrooke is making his first visit to the region since U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan last month, focusing on a regional approach to ending the war.

Pakistan is crucial to U.S. efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, where a Taliban insurgency has intensified over recent years despite a rising number of U.S. and other foreign soldiers there.

Holbrooke and Mullen are due in India later on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan wanted to engage with the United States with mutual interest and respect and he had flagged in talks with the Americans Pakistani "red lines" that the United States should not cross.

"The bottom line is (the) question of trust," Qureshi told a news conference with Holbrooke and Mullen. "We can only work together if we respect each other and trust each other."

U.S. commanders say tackling militant enclaves in ungoverned ethnic Pashtun tribal lands in northwest Pakistan, from where the Taliban launch attacks into Afghanistan and al Qaeda plots violence around the world, is vital to success in Afghanistan.

At the same time, attacks by militants across Pakistan are reviving Western concerns about the stability of its nuclear-armed ally.

Pakistan for years used Islamists to further foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan and the Kashmir region, which both Pakistan and India claim.

Some U.S. officials say they suspect Pakistani security agents still maintain contacts with militant groups while Afghanistan says Pakistani agents support the Taliban.

Pakistan denies that.

"A GAP"

Obama has said Pakistan would get "no blank cheques" and the release of more U.S. aid would depend on how it tackled terrorism.

In response, Qureshi said: "It works both ways. We’ll neither accept one nor will we give one".

Alarmed by deteriorating security in Afghanistan, the United States has since last year stepped up strikes by pilotless drone aircraft against al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan.

Pakistan calls the strikes violations of its sovereignty and says the civilian casualties they often cause inflame anti-U.S. sentiment, complicating its effort to fight militancy.

"We did talk about drones and let me be very frank, there is a gap," Qureshi said.

"We agreed to disagree on this," he said, adding the issue would be taken up again in three-way talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States in Washington on May 6-7.

Taliban commanders say recent violence in Pakistan has been in retaliation for the U.S. drone attacks.

Mullen said the United States had a long-term commitment to Pakistan which he hoped would generate trust that he said was "absolutely vital".

Holbrooke said Pakistani and U.S. interests ran in parallel.

"The United States and Pakistan face a common strategic threat, a common enemy and a common challenge and therefore a common task," he said.

President Asif Ali Zardari told the visiting Americans late on Monday Pakistan was battling militants for its survival.

Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and a year-old coalition government are also struggling to revive an economy propped up by a $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan.

Holbrooke said the United States would be making a "substantial pledge" at a donors’ conference in Tokyo on April 17, adding he hoped other countries would too. (For more stories on Pakistan and Afghanistan click on [nSP437509]} (Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Paul Tait)





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