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Islamabad says drone attacks fuel extremists

Latest update : 2009-04-07

Pakistani leaders told Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and Richard Holbrooke, special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, that drone attacks fuelled extremism and called for a new strategy to defeat al Qaeda and other militants.

AFP - Pakistan told US envoys Tuesday that drone attacks fuelled extremism in the nuclear-armed nation and called for mutual trust to allow the implementation of a sweeping new strategy against militants.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard Holbrooke, envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, held two days of talks with Pakistani leaders on a new US strategy to defeat Al-Qaeda and its allies.

Holbrooke said that while the United States was suffering from intelligence failures in the region, he and Mullen had emphasised the two countries faced the same enemy and would have to work together.

"We believe that... the United States and Pakistan face a common strategic threat, a common enemy and a common challenge and therefore a common task," Holbrooke told a news conference in Islamabad.

But Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said drone attacks -- to which Pakistan is publicly opposed -- work to the advantage of the extremists and flagged up "red lines" in Pakistan's cooperation with Washington.

"We did talk about drones and let me be very frank. There's a gap. There's a gap between us and them," Qureshi told the news conference.

Pakistan is deeply opposed to the drone attacks, around 37 of which have killed over 360 people since August 2008, saying they violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the populace.

"My view is that they are working to the advantage of the extremists. We agree to disagree on this. We will take it up when we meet again in Washington," Qureshi added, referring to talks scheduled for May 6-7.

The visit by Mullen and Holbrooke, who are scheduled to fly on to India later Tuesday, is the first top-level US mission to Pakistan since President Barack Obama put the nuclear-armed Muslim country at the heart of the fight against Al-Qaeda.

"The bottom line is the question of trust. We are partners and we want to be partners," Qureshi said.

"We can only work together if we respect each other and we trust each other. There is no other way. Nothing else will work," he added.

Tuesday's talks came as the New York Times reported that the United States intended to step up drone attacks on militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, which border Afghanistan, and might extend them deeper inside Pakistan.

The cash-strapped country is keenly awaiting a US aid package that aims to triple economic assistance to 7.5 billion dollars over five years.

Pakistan has called for military equipment and drones for its armed forces in order to better attack the Islamist extremists themselves, and so save the government from the furious anti-US backlash that officials say fuels extremist violence.

But Washington demands that Pakistan's powerful intelligence services -- which have a history of supporting Islamist militants to fight in Indian-controlled Kashmir and in Afghanistan -- sever ties with extremists.

"It's important for us to seek a surplus of trust," Mullen told the news conference when asked what was preventing Washington from handing over drones to Pakistan to carry out the air strikes.

Acknowledging the complexity of the enemy, Holbrooke told reporters he was "very, very dissatisfied" by US intelligence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "The level of knowledge that we have is not where it should be," he said.

He said a key US priority was to encourage cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistani intelligence agencies, militaries and the two countries, which have traditionally had fraught relations.

In a statement issued after talks with the envoys late Monday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari emphasised the gravity of the threat, saying that the country was "fighting a battle for its own survival".

Pakistan has paid dearly for its alliance with the US in its "war on terror." Militant attacks have killed more than 1,700 people since July 2007.

Pakistan rejects criticism that it does not do enough to counter Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants holed up on the Afghan border, pointing to the deaths of more than 1,500 troops at the hands of Islamist extremists since 2002.

Date created : 2009-04-07