By Zeeshan Haider
ISLAMABAD, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Pakistan said on Wednesday it wanted closer cooperation with the United States in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban but had no understanding with Washington that allowed missile strikes on its territory.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday that Washington would continue with strikes by unmanned Predator drones against militants and that Pakistan was aware of this.
But in a statement on Wednesday, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry denied there was a deal.
"There is no understanding between Pakistan and the United States on Predator attacks," spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said.
The United States, frustrated by an intensifying Afghan insurgency and what it sees as Pakistan’s reluctance to tackle the spillover, stepped up the missile attacks last year.
The Washington Post in November cited unidentified Pakistani and U.S. officials as saying the countries had agreed on a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy that allowed attacks, but Islamabad formally denied such an agreement.
U.S. officials normally decline to comment publicly on reports of missile strikes but Gates made an exception on Tuesday when asked about Pakistan’s complaints at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
PURSUE AL QAEDA
"Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al Qaeda wherever al Qaeda is and we will continue to pursue that," Gates said.
Asked by committee chairman Senator Carl Levin if that decision had been conveyed to the Pakistani government, Gates replied: "Yes, sir."
The United States carried out about 30 missile attacks in 2008 and four this year, according to a Reuters tally.
The attacks have killed about 250 people, including foreign militants, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials and residents.
Pakistan says the attacks are a violation of its sovereignty and undermine efforts to tackle the militants.
Civilian casualties in the strikes drive Pashtun tribesmen into the arms of the militants and undermine efforts to drive a wedge between civilians and the militants, the military says.
Analysts say the strikes are also undermining the position of the civilian government and President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, by making them appear powerless to stop what many see as U.S. aggression.
Many Pakistanis oppose support for the United States and see the U.S.-led campaign against militancy as a war against Muslims.
Pakistan had hoped the new U.S. administration would review the policy although during his election campaign Obama had spoken of the possibility of strikes if the Pakistani military was seen as unwilling or unable to tackle them. (Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Ddavid Fox)