Spain's Defence Minister Carme Chacon (R) takes her seat beside Pakistan's Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani at the start of the NATO MC conference in Seville on Friday. – Photo by Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Stalemate between Pakistan and the United States over sanctuaries of the Haqqani network in tribal areas, which is threatening to stall normalisation of frayed bilateral relations, appears to be worsening.

Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani virtually ruled out on Friday an imminent full-scale action against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan.

“He reiterated the resolve and commitment of Pakistan in the struggle against terrorism while underlining Pakistan’s sovereign right to formulate policy in accordance with its national interests and the wishes of the Pakistani people,” an ISPR statement said of Gen Kayani’s speech at a meeting of Nato chiefs of defence in Seville, Spain.

Gen Kayani told a foreign news agency that he doubted Afghanistan would be ready for international troops to leave by 2014 as planned.

Although there was no allusion to the Haqqani network in the statement released by the ISPR to the media, the comments were understood to have been made in reference to the terror group which returned to the limelight after Tuesday’s 20-hour long assault near the US Embassy and Nato Headquarters in Kabul.

After the attack the US renewed pressure on Pakistan to act against Haqqani safe havens. The government and the military leadership have so far avoided an all-out military operation in North Waziristan, citing “capacity constraints”.

Gen Kayani was also expected to meet US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen on the sidelines of the conference to discuss fresh strains. However, there were contradictory claims about the meeting. An ISPR statement said the two commanders had met in Seville, but Mullen’s spokesman, till filing of this report, said the meeting “hasn’t happened …will happen soon”.

Admiral Mullen had in an interview with Dawn in April described the Haqqani network as “core irritant” in the troubled Pak-US relations.

While US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had warned Pakistan of doing everything possible for ending threat posed by the network, the most potent insurgent group, Ambassador Cameron Munter upped the ante in an interview with Radio Pakistan, saying further attacks would not be tolerated. “We will not allow this to happen again,” he said, adding that proofs of involvement of the group in Tuesday’s attack in Kabul would be given to Pakistan.

“Obviously‚ we are going to defend ourselves. We have always said we will‚ and we always have because when our soldiers are attacked‚ when our diplomats are attacked we are not going to let that happen. The way we want to see that is through working with our Pakistani friends to deal with this group,” Mr Munter said. He said all peace-loving people of the region should unite to fight against the Haqqani network as it posed a threat not only to the US and its allies, but also to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Reuters adds: Gen Parvez Kayani said he doubted Afghanistan would be ready for a planned international troops’ pullout by 2014. “Frankly, I have my doubts,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of the Nato military committee conference in Seville. He said he thought an alternative deadline might be possible. “No date can be a final date.”

Gen Kayani said he thought relations between the United States and Pakistan were satisfactory. “Relations are good. They are improving.”

On Thursday, the Pakistan foreign ministry said a US warning on militants based in Pakistan, blamed by Washington for this week’s attack on the US Embassy in Kabul, worked against counter-terrorism cooperation between the two allies.

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