Friday, March 1, 2024

Pakistan says Obama pressure on militants hurts Afghanistan

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ISLAMABAD: US President Barack Obama’s warning to Islamabad over suspected ties to militants will hurt efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and fuel anti-Americanism, the chairman of Pakistan’s Senate Foreign Affairs Committee said on Friday.

Pakistan is seen as critical to bringing peace to neighbouring Afghanistan, but the United States has failed to persuade it to go after militant groups it says cross the border to attack Western forces in Afghanistan.

”This is not helping either the United States, Afghanistan or Pakistan,” Salim Saifullah told Reuters. ”There will be pressure on the (Pakistan) government to get out of this war,” he said, referring to the US war on militancy.

Obama warned Pakistan on Thursday that its ties with ”unsavory characters” had put relations with the United States at risk, as he ratcheted up pressure on Islamabad to cut links with militants mounting attacks in Afghanistan.

His comments are likely to deepen a crisis in the strategic alliance between the United States and Pakistan. Obama accused Pakistan’s leaders of ”hedging their bets” on Afghanistan’s future, but stopped short of threatening to cut off US aid, despite calls from lawmakers for a tougher line over accusations that Pakistani intelligence supported strikes on US targets in Afghanistan.

Pakistan says it has sacrificed more than any other nation that joined America’s global ”war on terror” after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, losing 10,000 soldiers and security forces, and 30,000 civilians.

But its performance against militants operating from its unruly tribal northwest border region is a frequent source of tension between Washington and Islamabad.

Ties were heavily strained after US special forces launched a unilateral raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani town on May 2.

They deteriorated further after the top US military official accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of supporting a September 13 attack by the Taliban-allied Haqqani militant group on the US embassy in Kabul.

Saifullah said Washington’s public criticism of Pakistan was counter-productive and would only encourage militant groups.

”War in Afghanistan is passing through a critical phase, evolutionary phase,” he said. ”At this stage, muddying water is not appropriate. This is exactly what the militants want. They are playing to their tune. This is adding strength to them.”

Some analysts agree with his assessment.

”This will create more tension and what the Americans want is not likely to happen in the near future,” said political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.

The United States has long called for a military offensive against the Haqqani network, which it says is based in North Waziristan, a global hub for militants on the Afghan border.

Pakistan sees the Haqqani network — perhaps the most feared Taliban-allied insurgents in Afghanistan — as a counterweight to the growing influence of rival India there, analysts say.

Pakistan denies links to the group, which says it no longer operates from sanctuaries in North Waziristan and feels secure operating in Afghanistan after battlefield gains. Obama made clear that future US-Pakistani relations would depend heavily on whether Islamabad complies with Washington’s demands to sever connections with insurgents. But public demand from Washington will make Islamabad more reluctant to take action because caving in after constant pressure could be political suicide in a country where anti-American sentiment runs high, and the government is unpopular.

Many Pakistanis believe they have been dragged into a war against militancy that only serves American interests.

That sentiment has become more widespread because of an escalation of US drone aircraft missile strikes against militants in Pakistan under the Obama administration.

”Are we owned by the United States? If so, please make our terms of servitude clear Mr. Obama so we can just get on with it,” said Mishayl Naek, a bank employee in the city of Karachi, in reaction to the US president’s demands of Pakistan. (PTI)

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