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FO admits ties with US strained

November 01, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Oct 31: The Foreign Office on Friday indirectly admitted that Islamabad’s relations with Washington were strained over the handling of militancy “politically and diplomatically”.

“We are passing through a difficult period strategically, politically and, of course, the situation on the border with Afghanistan is complex,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said during a press briefing in reply to a question about Pakistan-US relations.

He said that extraordinary events were happening which were “neither to Pakistan’s liking nor to the liking of international law”.

“If something is not happening to our liking or the US liking in this relationship, we will need to address it politically and diplomatically.”

Stressing the need for good ties between the two countries, the spokesman said the relationship was important for the region’s peace and stability.

The frequency of attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas by CIA-controlled unmanned Predator drones has significantly increased over the past few weeks. The attack on Friday was the 20th in 12 weeks.

Only a day before the attack on Mir Ali, the US ambassador to Pakistan was summoned to the foreign ministry for a second time in the past two months and was told that the strikes should be “stopped immediately”.

Reiterating Pakistan’s position on the attacks, the Foreign Office spokesman said the strikes were “counterproductive” because they not only produced collateral damage, but also antagonised people and undermined the government’s efforts to seek the support of tribesmen against militants.

Although the US had not yet heeded Pakistan’s protests, including those made at the highest levels, Mr Sadiq hoped that there would be a better understanding of the government’s position.

The spokesman said Pakistan had denounced the US air attack inside Syria’s border on Oct 26. “Pakistan is against the violation of the sovereignty and national territory of any state.”

The Foreign Office appeared to be sceptical of the US denial about the presence of Pakistani women prisoners in Bagram.

The issue, the spokesman said, had been taken up with US authorities. They had denied the presence of any Pakistani in the prison. However, he said, Pakistan would continue to pursue the matter with the Americans because allegations about the presence of Pakistani women continued to surface and could not be taken lightly.

PRESIDENT’S VISIT: The spokesman said that President Asif Zardari would pay a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia beginning on Nov 4.

He said the president would hold talks with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz about measures for increasing the volume of bilateral trade and boosting manpower export.

The two leaders, he said, would also exchange views on challenges confronted by the Ummah, the inter-faith initiative taken by King Abdullah and his country’s efforts to curb terrorism and extremism.

The president would solicit Saudi support for the ‘Friends of Pakistan’ initiative and also broach with his interlocutors Islamabad’s request for deferred payment facility on oil.

WATER DISPUTE: The spokesman hinted that water dispute with India would be resolved in a few days.

“We were assured at the prime ministerial level by India that the requirements of the Indus Basin Treaty will be met and the issue will be resolved in a few days,” Mr Sadiq said.

He said Pakistan had not yet decided on taking the matter to the World Bank, which had helped broker the Indus Basin Water Treaty.

“We have all the avenues open to us under the treaty and we will take a decision on them if the issue is not resolved at its present stage.”

PRISONERS IN SRI LANKA: The repatriation of 17 Pakistani prisoners from Sri Lanka had been delayed because of some administrative and procedural issues, Mr Sadiq said.

“We are actively pursuing this with the Sri Lankan authorities.”

At present, he said, there were 47 Pakistani prisoners in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka had agreed to let Pakistani prisoners complete their prison terms in Pakistan on humanitarian grounds.