ISLAMABAD: Despite the reopening of Nato supply routes, the United States has refused to commit that it will restrain from launching ‘unilateral strikes’ if there is a high-value al Qaeda target inside Pakistan.
Pakistan had sought from the United States an assurance that it would respect its borders – but Washington was noncommittal, officials privy to the negotiations between the two countries that resulted in the reopening of Nato transit routes told The Express Tribune on Wednesday.
Though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her statement that she regrets the Salala airstrikes and that the Americans would make sure such incidents are not repeated, it appeared to be too generic to be taken as an outright assurance.
US commandos intruded Pakistani territory on May 2, 2011 to launch an operation in Abbottabad to kill al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
The incident proved to be a major source of contention between the two allies on the War on Terror. But US officials, instead of offering any regret, said that they would not hesitate to send their commandos again if any other al Qaeda leader was spotted in Pakistani territory.
Officials said Pakistan had been asking the US to give firm guarantees that its territorial integrity would not be violated again. “That is what our side has been seeking from them,” said one official, seeking anonymity.
The official added that Pakistan did not have any major objection to the drone strikes inside the tribal region to get al Qaeda fugitives but it was not ready to allow American ‘boots’ on the ground.
“We have asked them not to cross our red-lines in the future,” he explained.
But the officials maintained that the American side was not forthcoming with a commitment that Pakistani demands would be honoured. “They have their own concerns… they will not tolerate al Qaeda’s [existence] or leave it to somebody else to get its leaders out.”
Recently there have been some unconfirmed reports that Bin Laden’s successor Dr Ayman al Zawahiri was hiding somewhere in the rugged mountains of tribal regions in what appeared to be an alarming sign for the country.
Taking out Zawahiri is one of the most desired objectives for the Americans to show the world that al Qaeda has been eliminated, the official added.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2012.
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