The United States has linked the halting of the drone campaign in the tribal belt with the Pakistan military launching a full-scale operation against the influential Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, allegedly based in North Waziristan.
US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani during marathon talks in Rawalpindi on Wednesday that the CIA-led Predator strikes would continue until Pakistan eliminates Haqqani network from its the tribal region, The Express Tribune has learnt.
However, officials privy to the discussions said General Kayani refused to give any assurance or timeline to the top American military commander on carrying out an all-out assault in North Waziristan.
“Our position is absolutely clear that the operation in North Waziristan will be launched only if it is in the national interest,” said a security official, who requested not to be identified.
The Pakistan’s security establishment has long been accused of having links with the Afghan Taliban particularly the influential Haqqani network.
The American officials say Pakistan’s reluctance to go after the deadliest Afghan militant outfit in its tribal belt is the main reason the Obama administration had to rely on unmanned drones to take out “high value” targets.
But General Kayani strongly dismissed such perceptions, saying the military is committed to defeating extremists.
“The COAS highlighted that Pakistan Army’s ongoing operations are a testimony of our national resolve to defeat terrorism,” said a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations after Kayani’s meeting with Mullen.
“The COAS reinforced the government’s stance on drone strikes and emphasised that they not only undermine our national effort against terrorism, but turn public support against our efforts, which remains the key to success,” the statement added.
It said Kayani strongly rejects the negative propaganda of Pakistan not doing enough and Pakistan Army’s lack of clarity on the way forward.
His remarks came in response to Admiral Mullen’s blunt assessment that the ISI had a “longstanding relationship” with the Haqqani network.
Military sources say the army chief conveyed strong reservations to Mullen on his accusations against the Pakistan’s premier spy agency.
Despite tensions, the ISPR quoted Admiral Mullen as saying that he lauded the sacrifices and efforts of the people of Pakistan and its security forces, and reassured that security ties will not be allowed to unravel between the two armed forces.
The army chief acknowledged that the evolving Pak-US strategic relations are important for mutual long term objectives of comprehensive security in both the countries.
The relations between Washington and Islamabad have been under stress due to a series of incidents including the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor and drone attacks, one of which killed some 40 tribal elders.
The two countries have since been making serious efforts to defuse the tension. Mullen was the second top American military official who visited Islamabad in less than two weeks following a trip by US Central Command Chief General James Mattis on April 7.
In addition to these visits, the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence chief General Ahmed Shuja Pasha also flew to Washington for discussions with CIA Chief Leon Paneta last week.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2011.