Pakistan to ask for more understanding at U.S. talks

ISLAMABAD — Claiming that it has bowed far enough to U.S. interests, Pakistan will use next week’s high-level talks with the Obama administration to seek more recognition for its part in the fight against terrorism and get Washington to acknowledge its concerns about rival India.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi will chair the talks next Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to thrash out issues that have confounded relations between the two countries and contributed to deep mistrust and a prevasive anti-American feeling among Pakistanis.

“Pakistan has done its bit! That is my answer,” Qureshi said in the run-up to the talks that will cover security, economic development and a crippling energy crisis that leaves many parts of the country without electricity for up to eight hours a day. “We have already done too much.”

Retired Gen. Talat Masood said perceptions abroad of Pakistan as a “villain, a scapegoat” undermine relations and contribute to widespread anti-Americanism.

“In America, if anything or everything is going wrong in Afghanistan, it is blamed on Pakistan. When acts of terrorism occur, Pakistan is accused,” he said. “Similarly, in Pakistan, everything that goes wrong is blamed on the United States or India.”

Even though Pakistan has sent forces into South Waziristan and some other areas along the Afghan border and tacitly permitted U.S. missile strikes on insurgent targets on its soil, the government here feels it has been unfairly slammed for not doing more — although U.S. officials have recently praised the Pakistanis for their efforts.

Regional experts say Pakistan will be looking to Washington to recognize the threat it perceives from its eastern neighbor India, against whom it has fought and lost three wars. Pakistan is concerned that Indian economic and political involvement in Afghanistan could lead to unfriendly governments on both its eastern and western borders.

Pakistanis have widely criticized the U.S. for suggesting that Pakistan move more of its troops off its eastern border with India and send them to its western border with Afghanistan where al-Qaida and Taliban fighters maintain sanctuaries.

“In these talks it has to be understood why Washington thinks that India is not a threat and Washington has to understand why Pakistan believes India is still a threat and that also brings up Afghanistan,” said Tanvir Ahmed, who heads the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.

Islamabad has accused New Delhi of planting spies in Afghanistan to undermine Pakistani interests. Pakistan also has accused India of using Afghan territory to fire up an insurgency in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province and using money and manpower to gain influence over the Kabul government.

India, for its part, accuses Pakistan of failing to crack down on anti-Indian militants operating on its soil, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for the November 2008 attack that left 166 people dead in the Indian city of Mumbai.

Afghan officials suspect Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the Feb. 26 car bomb and suicide attacks on Kabul guest houses frequented by Indians and other foreigners. The attacks, which were claimed by the Taliban, left 16 people dead, including six Indians.

Qureshi said Pakistan’s role is key to a stable Afghanistan particularly over the next year as Washington moves closer to July 2011, when it hopes to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“If the world has to see forward movement in Afghanistan, it is in 2010,” Qureshi said. “There is recognition in the world that Pakistan can play a key role in the stabilization of Afghanistan. And Pakistan has been requested to play a role in the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai just returned from a two-day trip to Islamabad where he thanked India for its help in reconstructing Afghanistan and told Pakistan — a nation he says is Afghanistan’s “twin” — that Kabul welcomed its help in making peace with the Taliban.

Also on the U.S.-Pakistan agenda is $1 billion the United States promised, but has not yet delivered, to Pakistan’s armed forces, military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas said Friday. The money was promised under the Coalition Support Fund, which the United States set up to reimburse its allies for money spent fighting militancy.

While Pakistan has received more money from the support fund than any other nation, it is also one of the least expensive fronts in the battle against terrorism. The amount the U.S. spends per Pakistani soldier each month is $928 compared with $76,870 in Afghanistan and $85,640 in Iraq.

As a result of Washington’s sluggish repayment, Abbas said the military has been forced to dip into its reserves to finance its battle against insurgents in the tribal regions that border Afghanistan.

Also likely to surface at the talks will be recognition of Pakistan as a nuclear power, an issue that has gnawed at Islamabad since former President George W. Bush recognized India as a nuclear power.

“Pakistan will want direct or de facto recognition of its nuclear capability,” Masood, the retired Pakistani general, said. That would help put to rest fears voiced in newspapers and on television that the United States could turn its guns on Pakistan’s nuclear installations after it finishes in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s economic and energy needs also loom large at the talks, says Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies. In poor areas of Pakistan, power is cut for eight hours a day and government officials warn of even longer outages in coming hot summer months.

Even the military agreed.

“It is not just about military security,” Abbas said. “There has to be a more comprehensive approach to security that also includes energy security and economic security … all these issues which are all seriously eroding the capability of the state and effecting the public.”

Qureshi said the time has passed for diplomatic talk, advocating instead a more honest approach.

“We’re going to have a very frank, candid discussion. We’re going to sit and talk as friend and allies,” he said. “We should stop mincing words. We should be honest with each other.”

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