ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan warned the United States yesterday to stop accusing it of playing a double game with Islamist militants and heaped praise on “all-weather friend” China.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, speaking exclusively to Reuters, said any unilateral military action by the United States to hunt down militants of the Haqqani network inside Pakistan would be a violation of his country’s sovereignty.
However, he side-stepped questions on the tense relations with the United States and offered no indications of any steps Pakistan might take to soothe the fury in Washington.
The outgoing chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, last week described the Haqqani network, the most violent faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI spy agency and accused Islamabad of providing support for the group’s Sept. 13 attack on the US embassy in Kabul.
“The negative messaging, naturally that is disturbing my people,” Gilani said in the interview from his office in Islamabad. “If there is messaging that is not appropriate to our friendship, then naturally it is extremely difficult to convince my public. Therefore they should be sending positive messages.”
Since Mullen’s comments, Pakistan has launched a diplomatic counter-attack and attempted to drum up support from its strongest ally in the region, China. Pakistani officials have been heaping praise on China since its public security minister arrived in Islamabad on Monday for high-level talks.
“We are true friends and we count on each other,” Gilani said in separate comments broadcast on television networks after talks with Meng Jianzhu yesterday.
The military, Pakistan’s most powerful institution, said it appreciated Beijing’s backing. Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani thanked Meng for China’s “unwavering support.”
China and Pakistan call each other “all-weather friends” and their close ties have been underpinned by long-standing wariness of their common neighbour, India, and a desire to hedge against US influence across the region.
“They (the Pakistanis) are trying to use their diplomatic options as much as possible to defuse pressure on them. They hope China will help them in this crisis,” said security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.
Asked why the United States had suddenly ratcheted up its criticism of Pakistan, Gilani implied that it reflected Washington’s frustration with the war in Afghanistan ahead of a withdrawal of US troops from the country in 2014.
“Certainly they expected more results from Afghanistan, which they have not been able to achieve as yet,” he said. “They have not achieved what they visualized.”
Rejecting allegations that Islamabad was behind any violence across its border, he said: “It is in the interest of Pakistan to have a stable Afghanistan.”
The White House yesterday reiterated military demands.
“The Pakistani government needs to take action to deal with the links that exist there,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Asked if Washington would take action if Pakistan fails to cut ties with the Haqqani network, Carney said: “We are obviously always reviewing our aid programmes. We obviously take it very seriously and discuss these matters with our Pakistani counterparts.”
Yet there is no indication American officials are ready to cut ties with volatile, nuclear-armed Pakistan.
“There are differences from time to time in the relationship with Pakistan, as there is in any partnership. Those differences have been made public and we continue to discuss those differences in private,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.