ISLAMABAD Pakistan's prime minister warned the United States on Tuesday to stop accusing it of playing a double game with Islamist militants, and said Washington must correct a perceived tilt toward arch-foe India.
Yusuf Raza Gilani, speaking in an exclusive interview with Reuters, also said any unilateral military action by the United States to hunt down militants of the Haqqani network inside Pakistan would be a violation of his country's sovereignty.
However, speaking from his office in Islamabad, he side-stepped a string of questions on the tense relations with the United States and offered no indications of any steps Pakistan might take to soothe the current fury in Washington.
The United States' military chief last week described the Haqqani network, the most violent faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's ISI spy agency and accused Islamabad of providing support for the group's September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
It was the most serious allegation leveled by Washington against the nuclear-armed South Asian nation since they allied in the "war on terror" in 2001, and the first time it had held Islamabad responsible for an attack against the United States.
"The negative messaging, naturally that is disturbing my people," Gilani said in the interview. "If there is messaging that is not appropriate to our friendship, then naturally it is extremely difficult to convince my public. Therefore they should be sending positive messages."
Asked for his view on why the United States had suddenly ratcheted up its criticism of Pakistan, he implied that it reflected frustration with the war in Afghanistan ahead of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country in 2014.
"Certainly they expected more results from Afghanistan, which they have not been able to achieve as yet," he said. "They have not achieved what they visualized."
Rejecting allegations that Islamabad was behind any violence across its border, he said: "It is in the interest of Pakistan to have a stable Afghanistan."
Gilani said Washington should provide the "political space" for his government to convince a skeptical Pakistani public of the value of a relationship with the United States.
However, anti-Americanism is rampant in Pakistan and reached new heights after U.S. Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at his Pakistan townhouse hideout in May.
A Pew Research Center survey of Pakistanis in June found that 69 percent saw Washington as an enemy and 47 percent were "very" worried about a military threat from the United States.
Gilani said anti-Americanism in Pakistan was partly a result of an "imbalance" between Washington's relationship with India and Pakistan.
Much of the Pakistani public believes that since the end of the Cold War, the United States has tilted toward India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan since the violent partition of the subcontinent in 1947.
Gilani pointed out that Washington had struck a deal on civilian nuclear cooperation with New Delhi but not Islamabad.
"There is an acute shortage of electricity in Pakistan. And there are riots. And the opposition is playing to the gallery because there is a shortage of electricity," he said.
"But they (the United States) are doing the civilian nuclear deal not with Pakistan, but with India. Now how can I convince my public that they are your (Pakistan's) friends and not the friends of India? ... the perception matters."
Asked how Islamabad would respond if there was a unilateral military operation by the United States inside Pakistan to go after the Haqqanis, Gilani responded: "We are a sovereign country. How can they come and raid in our country?"
He said Islamabad had conveyed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that such unilateral action "will not be acceptable to Pakistan."
"We want to maintain relations with the United States, but at the same time, we have to protect the sovereignty of the country," he added.
The Haqqanis' leader told Reuters last week that the group is no longer based in the tribal mountainous Pakistani region of North Waziristan and feels secure operating in Afghanistan. However, analysts say it still enjoys sanctuaries in Pakistan.
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)