Pakistan continues to harbor terrorist groups that pose a deadly threat to American interests and imperil efforts to create a stable Afghanistan, U.S. Defense secretary Leon Panetta said in Kabul on Thursday.
Coupled with the blunt warning that the Obama administration was “losing patience” with its unreliable, nuclear-armed, ally in Islamabad, Mr. Panetta’s accusations capped a year of worsening U.S.-Pakistani relations.
“It’s an increasing concern that Haqqani safe havens still exist on the other side of the border,” Mr. Panetta said in Kabul. “Pakistan has to take action (against) allowing terrorists in their country to attack our forces on the other side of the border.”
It’s not the first time that senior Obama administration officials have accused Pakistan of playing both sides in the 21st-century version of the ‘Great Game’ as Islamabad both battles Islamic jihadists threatening it and positions itself for the fast-approaching time when American and other foreign troops pull out of Afghanistan.
Still Mr. Panetta’s tough talk set the stage for another bitter exchange between the two feuding allies.
Pakistanis remains furious over what are regarded as America’s repeated and insulting trampling on Pakistani sovereignty. The U.S. special forces raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden a year ago, the attacks that killed dozens of Pakistani soldiers, CIA operatives gunning down Pakistanis on a Lahore street, drone-firing missiles aimed at insurgents that sometimes kill civilians; the list is long and many Pakistanis are fed up with America.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the Obama administration increasingly regards Islamabad as part of the problem not part of the solution.
Several of the biggest and most deadly strikes in Afghanistan, notably in the heart of the capital Kabul, have been staged by Haqqani fighters who, the Obama administration repeatedly asserts, operate with impunity and, worse, support from Pakistan. The Haqqani group, backed during the 1980s by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency when they fought as insurgents against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is now seen by U.S. commanders as among the most serious threats. Pakistan denies is maintains links with the Haqqani group, but the group operates from apparent sanctuaries in North Waziristan, part of the semi-independent tribal areas on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Washington has cut billions in military aid to Pakistan and point-blank refuses to apologize for the ‘mistake’ when U.S. Apache helicopter gunships killed dozens of Pakistani troops at a border post.
For its part, Pakistan has ousted hundreds of American agents, ended its tacit co-operation with the drone operations and repeatedly cut the vital logistics route that supplies the 100,000-plus U.S.-led foreign forces in Afghanistan.
“It’s a complicated relationship, often times frustrating, often times difficult,” Mr. Panetta said earlier in India. Like his comments in Kabul, the fact that the defence secretary was bluntly critical of Pakistan in neighbouring and rival states will also be regarded as insulting by many in Pakistan.
“They have provided some co-operation. There are other times when frankly that co-operation is not there,” Mr. Panetta added. “But the United States cannot just walk away from that relationship. We have to continue to do what we can to try to improve (the) areas where we can find some mutual co-operation.”
Meanwhile drones strikes continue inside Pakistan. Only two days before Mr. Panetta’s arrival, a Hellfire missile apparently killed al-Qaeda’s second-in-command. “This is about our sovereignty as well,” Mr. Panetta said, making clear the attacks by remotely-piloted Predator drones will continue.