US Defence Secretary arrives in Pak to press ties
Last Updated: Thursday, January 21, 2010, 15:51
  
Islamabad: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates made an unannounced trip to Pakistan on Thursday hoping to deepen ties and persuade the nuclear-armed US ally to root out all militants, including Afghan Taliban factions.

Gates, on his first visit to Pakistan since US President Barack Obama took office last year, told reporters he would also attempt to persuade a sceptical nation that Washington aimed to be an ally "for the long-haul”.

Islamabad has mounted big offensives against Pakistani Taliban factions that are attacking the state but has resisted US pressure to attack Afghan Taliban in border enclaves who do not attack in Pakistan but cross the border to fight US troops.

Pakistan says it has its hands full with the Pakistani Taliban and cannot open too many fronts at the same time.

But analysts say Pakistan sees the Afghan Taliban as tools to counter the growing influence of old rival India in Afghanistan and as potential allies in Afghanistan if US forces withdraw and, as many Pakistanis fear, leave the country in chaos.

"What I hope to talk about with my interlocutors is this notion and the reality that you can't ignore one part of this cancer and pretend that it won't have some impact closer to home," Gates told reporters travelling with him from India.

Gates said in India on Wednesday that New Delhi may lose its diplomatic restraint with Pakistan in the event of any repeat of a Mumbai-style attack, and militants in the region may use this to provoke the two rivals to war.

Gates, referring to a "trust deficit" between the United States and Pakistan, said in a commentary published in a Pakistani newspaper on Thursday the United States wanted to relinquish grievances of the past held by both sides.

The United States was committed to a stable, long-term, strategic partnership with a democratic Pakistan, he said.

The United States is sending 30,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, and Pakistan is worried that will lead to a spill-over of fighting across the border.

Anti-Americanism

Gates, who is due to meet military and political leaders on his two-day visit, said he would explain the Afghan strategy.

"The main focus of my visit will be to (discuss Afghan strategy) ... and to provide reassurances to the Pakistanis that we are in this for the long haul and intend to continue to be a partner of theirs far into the future," Gates said.

He said he would also raise thorny issues, including manifestations of anti-Americanism that include "problems with our visas and harassment of our people”.

US officials said last month that Pakistan was delaying hundreds of visas for US officials and contractors, which could hamper US aid programmes and further strain a critical alliance in the fight against Islamic extremism.

Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States attributed the delay in part to bureaucratic inefficiency, coupled with an "exponential" growth in the number of Americans in Pakistan. He said there was no intentional effort to delay issuing visas.

The United States is Pakistan's biggest aid donor and has given about USD 15 billion, including security assistance, since Pakistan signed up to the US-led campaign against militancy after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Gates said Pakistan should determine the pace of aid flows.

"We have to do this in a way that is comfortable for them and at a pace that they can accommodate and is tolerable for them."

Gates declined to comment on military operations but said avoiding civilian casualties was central to US strategy and the United States was mindful of Pakistan's sovereignty.

Bureau Report


First Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010, 15:51


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