Pakistan spells out `concerns` to US general

A White House report criticised Pakistan`s fight against Islamist militants.

Updated: Apr 08, 2011, 12:38 PM IST

Islamabad: Pakistan spelt out "concerns" dogging its troubled alliance with the United States at talks on Thursday with the most senior American to visit since the release of a CIA contractor accused of murder.

US commander of the Middle East and Afghanistan, General James Mattis, flew in as relations took a further knock from a White House report criticising Pakistan`s fight against Islamist militants on the Afghan border.

Mattis was meeting Pakistan`s Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, General Khalid Shamim Wynne, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Shavers at the US embassy said.

During the meetings, Mattis would "hear from them their concerns with regard to the relationship with the US military here", Shavers said.

"He`s going to be in listening mode... that`s the main reason why he`s here," he said. Mattis aims to visit Pakistan every three months and last visited in November, Shavers added.

The United States has made Pakistan a front line ally in the nearly 10-year war in Afghanistan and against al Qaeda, which US officials believe has carved out a global headquarters in Pakistan`s border areas with Afghanistan.

Under heavy US pressure, Pakistan has stepped up military operations against homegrown Taliban over the last two years, but US officials say more needs to be done to neutralise the threat posed by Islamist networks on its soil.

Islamabad rejected fresh criticism of its anti-militant fight, calling comments in this week`s White House report "unwarranted".

"I would like to categorically state that we do not share the assessment of the US," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua in a news briefing.

"Pakistan should not be held accountable for the failings of coalition strategy in Afghanistan," she added.

Pakistan argues that its troops are already dangerously overstretched. With an estimated 147,000 forces in the northwest -- more than the 130,000 US-led NATO force in Afghanistan -- the army has also endured heavy losses.

The military says more than 2,800 soldiers have died and more than 8,700 have been wounded since 2001, when the September 11 attacks on the United States ignited the US-led war on terror.

Aside from military operations, more than 4,200 people have been killed across Pakistan in attacks blamed on Taliban and other Islamist extremist networks since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad in 2007.

On the same day as the Mattis-Kayani talks, a suicide bomber killed a Pakistani police constable and wounded five other people, including two children, in the southwestern province of Baluchistan that borders Afghanistan.

But the White House report noted a deterioration this year in the northwestern border with Afghanistan and criticised the Pakistani military for failing to forge a clear and sustained path to beat Islamist insurgents.

The Pakistan military confirmed that the Mattis talks dealt with Afghanistan and "military cooperation”, but commanders did not give detailed comment.

Mattis is the highest ranking US official to visit Islamabad since Pakistan released a CIA contractor who shot dead two men in Lahore in January.

The killings and Pakistan`s subsequent seven-week detention of Raymond Davis sparked a major diplomatic crisis between Washington and Islamabad, until USD 2 million in blood money was paid to the families of the dead men.

A covert US drone campaign in the border region, which fosters deep anti-Americanism within Pakistan, has also continued to inflame tensions.

A missile strike on March 17 killed 39 people, civilians among them, and led to rare public condemnation by Kayani of the drone campaign, which continues with the tacit consent of Islamabad.

Military analyst Talat Masood said the recent trials and military relations between the two countries had "great scope for improvement".

"They`ll have to work a lot harder to improve them -- both between the intelligence services and the military," he said.

Pakistan last month boycotted a key meeting on Afghanistan in protest against the March 17 drone attack.

"We are trying to build these relations between the two countries on the principles of mutual interest and mutual respect, and at no point the national interest of Pakistan will be undermined in any way," Janjua told reporters.

Bureau Report