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Kabul attacks cast gloom over Pak-US engagements

September 16, 2011

Afghan security forces are seen near the building which was occupied by militants in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday. – Photo by AP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan-US bilateral engagements scheduled in New York could be an immediate casualty of a recent attack on the American embassy compound in Kabul, which has turned the gradually warming ties frosty once again.

The two sides were to negotiate a framework for future engagement in their meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

The agreement, though both sides differ on its precise description, was expected to address major points of discord, including the nature of CIA operations in Pakistan and its working relationship with the ISI, drone attacks and the regional sensitivities of the two countries.

But indications from Washington after Tuesday’s 20-hour assault near the US embassy and Nato headquarters in Kabul aren’t positive.

The North Waziristan-based Haqqani Network has been blamed for the Kabul attack and last weekend’s truck bomb attack in which dozens of American troops were injured.

Now the meeting between Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Marc Grossman, which was to discuss the ‘terms of engagement’ for ‘clearing out the cloud in relationship’ is uncertain.

The sense some of the Pakistani diplomats in Washington and Islamabad got from their conversations with American officials is that even if this meeting does take place it would not be productive unless Islamabad addresses US concerns about the Haqqani Network.

A lot would, however, depend on the outcome of a meeting between Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in Seville (Spain) on the sidelines of a Nato conference over the next couple of days.

Although the meeting was earlier thought to be meant to add momentum to normalisation of relations, it now appears the two commanders would once again be looking at repairing the dent in ties.

Diplomatic circles are not expecting much from the Sunday (Sept 18) meeting between Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even as Foreign Office Spokesperson Tehmina Janjua in her weekly media briefing on Thursday said: “Pakistan attaches importance to this engagement which will provide an opportunity to discuss all issues.”

The not so optimistic picture about the prospects of the Pak-US engagement by senior Pakistani diplomats in their private conversations is consistent with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s statement warning Pakistan that the US could do everything to eliminate the threat emanating from terrorist sanctuaries in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

The FO spokesperson sharply reacted to Mr Panetta’s comments saying they were “not in line with the cooperation the two countries have in counter-terrorism”.

She stressed that Pakistan’s cooperation was premised on respect for its sovereignty and entailed joint actions.

Ms Janjua recalled that Islamabad too had raised the issue of safe havens in Afghanistan from where insurgents had been attacking Pakistani paramilitary posts and bordering districts.

“There is need to clearly address the issue in a cooperative mode and work for de-escalation in violence as violence is no solution to any problem,” she noted, adding Pakistan was prepared to continue cooperation in countering terrorism.

The military avoided a direct response to Mr Panetta’s diatribe. But an army official, asking not to be named because of sensitivity of the matter, said the Americans were to equally share the blame for the security failure that enabled the militants to launch attack inside Kabul.

“Even if we were to accept that the Haqqani Network operates from bases in North Waziristan, it also needs to be acknowledged that the militants travelled a long distance inside the Afghan territory before carrying out the assault and they should have been intercepted by the Americans, who are far better equipped than us,” he said, adding checking border-crossing was not solely Pakistan’s responsibility.

The official said US criticism of Pakistan was in contrast to the recognition of its role in the fight against terrorism.