|Panetta's remarks unhelpful: Sherry|
09 June 2012
WASHINGTON - Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman on Friday called “unhelpful” a statement by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta about Washington losing patience with Pakistan that even a major American newspaper deplored as “bellicose.““Panetta’s complaint isn’t new, but his language was unusually bellicose,” The Los Angeles Times said in a dispatch, which also reported that the Obama administration has unleashed the CIA to resume an aggressive campaign of drone strikes in Pakistani territory over the last few weeks.Reacting to the US Defence Secretary’s statement, Ambassador Sherry Rehman said, “This kind of public messaging from a senior member of the US Administration is taken very seriously in Pakistan, and reduces the space for narrowing our bilateral differences at a critical time in the negotiations.” “It adds an unhelpful twist to the process and leaves little oxygen for those of us seeking to break a stalemate,” she added.Citing an unnamed senior US official, The LA Times said the Obama administration’s attitude is, “What do we have to lose?”Panetta himself made clear the deteriorating relations with Islamabad on Thursday, stating the United States is “reaching the limits of our patience” because Pakistan has not cracked down on local insurgents who carry out deadly attacks on US troops and others in neighbouring Afghanistan. He made it clear that the drone strikes will continue.The LA Times noted that CIA has launched eight Predator drone attacks since President Asif Ali Zardari was invited to attend the May 20-21 NATO summit in Chicago but refused to make a deal to reopen crucial routes used to supply US troops in Afghanistan, as the White House had hoped.The CIA had logged 14 remotely piloted strikes on targets in Pakistan’s rugged tribal belt in the previous 5 1/2 months, according to the New America Foundation, a US think tank that tracks reported attacks.“Obviously, something changed after Chicago,” a senior Congressional aide, also unnamed, was quoted as saying. “I am only getting the official story, but even within the official story there is an acknowledgement that something has changed.”The dispatch pointed out that Pakistanis view the drone strikes as an attempt to intimidate their civilian and military leaders into giving in to US demands. If that’s the strategy, it won’t work, it cited experts and analysts in Islamabad as saying.“They are trying to send a message: ‘If you don’t come around, we will continue with our plan, the way we want to do it,” said Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired Pakistani intelligence chief and former Senator.It’s “superpower arrogance being shown to a smaller State.... But this will only increase the feeling among Pakistanis that the Americans are bent on having their way through force and not negotiations.”A White House official said no political or foreign policy considerations would have prevented the CIA from taking action when it found Abu Yahya al Libi, Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, who was killed by a drone-fired missile in Pakistan on Monday.Both sides blame each other for the current dispute, the LA Times said.Pakistan blocked truck convoys hauling North Atlantic Treaty Organisation war supplies from the port city of Karachi after US military helicopters killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers at Salala.The US initially halted all drone strikes for two months to ease Pakistani sensitivities, and the attacks resumed only sporadically after mid-January, it noted. By May, Pakistani officials were signaling a willingness to reopen the supply route to resurrect relations.But talks deadlocked over Pakistan’s demands for sharply higher transit fees just before the NATO conference, and President Barack Obama “appeared to give Zardari a cold shoulder” in Chicago. Pentagon officials will visit Islamabad this week for a new round of talks, according to the dispatch.As an alternative to Pakistan, Washington concluded a deal this week to haul military gear out of landlocked Afghanistan through three Central Asian nations — Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan — as NATO coalition troops withdraw.A senior US official said the Obama administration and members of Congress were angered when a Pakistani court sentenced Shakeel Afridi, a doctor who helped the CIA search for Osama bin Laden, to 33 years in prison. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in May 2011 in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad.But, the dispatch pointed out that Panetta chiefly stressed his dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to clamp down on sanctuaries used by the Haqqani network, a militant group that has been blamed for numerous deadly attacks in Afghanistan.“Zardari’s beleaguered government is bracing for elections and can ill-afford to appear subservient to Washington,” the LA Times said. “Neither can the country’s powerful military, which wields vast influence over foreign policy but has seen its image dented by recent crisis, including the relentless drone attacks on its territory.”Meanwhile, the top US military officer Gen. Martin E. Dempsey joined Panetta, his boss, in expressing frustration with Pakistan’s progress in battling the Haqqani network’s alleged use of safe havens in Pakistan.“We are at war with al Qaeda, and as I’ve said, we will pursue them wherever we find them, because they are a network — a global network which has the intent of threatening our homeland,” said Dempsey, who is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff.
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