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Pakistan, U.S. stress trust, disagree on drones
Tue Apr 7, 2009 10:12am EDT
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By Robert Birsel
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan and the United States must build trust as they confront Islamist militant violence, senior officials said on Tuesday, but they failed to resolve disagreement on U.S. drone aircraft strikes in Pakistan.
U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, held talks with Pakistani political and military leaders after arriving from Kabul late on Monday.
Holbrooke is making his first visit to the region since U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan last month, focusing on a regional approach to ending the war.
Pakistan is crucial to U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, where a Taliban insurgency has intensified over recent years despite a rising number of U.S. and other foreign soldiers there.
Holbrooke and Mullen are due in India later on Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan wanted to engage with the United States with mutual interest and respect and he had flagged in talks with the Americans Pakistani "red lines" that the United States should not cross.
"The bottom line is the question of trust," Qureshi told a news conference with Holbrooke and Mullen. "We can only work together if we respect each other and trust each other."
U.S. commanders say tackling militant enclaves in ungoverned ethnic Pashtun tribal lands in northwest Pakistan, from where the Taliban launch attacks into Afghanistan and al Qaeda plots violence around the world, is vital to success in Afghanistan.
At the same time, attacks by militants across Pakistan are reviving Western concerns about the stability of its nuclear-armed ally, which is also struggling to revive an economy propped up by a $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan.
Pakistan for years used Islamists to further foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan and the Kashmir region, which both Pakistan and India claim.
Some U.S. officials say they suspect Pakistani security agents still maintain contacts with militant groups.
Despite Pakistani denials, Afghanistan says the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency supports the Taliban as a tool to further its aims in Afghanistan, where Pakistan is nervous about significant Indian influence.
"There are challenges associated with the ISI's support, historically, for some groups and I think it's important that that support ends," Mullen later told reporters.
Obama has said Pakistan would get "no blank checks" and that more U.S. aid would depend on how it tackled terrorism. Continued...
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