x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Pakistan demands a new US security deal to stop raids

US is being blamed for growing Taliban militancy, while anger over the death of civilians is further fraying strained relations.

Supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party wave the party’s flag during a rally in Karachi on Sunday. The party, led by the cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, attracted about 100,000 people to the demonstration.
Supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party wave the party’s flag during a rally in Karachi on Sunday. The party, led by the cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, attracted about 100,000 people to the demonstration.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan has demanded a new security deal with the US that would force it to stop raids - such as the one that killed Osama bin Laden - and aerial drone attacks on its territory, Pakistani officials said yesterday.

The country is vital to the US in its efforts to stabilise Afghanistan but relations between Washington and Islamabad have sharply deteriorated this year.

Pakistan's powerful army was angered by the May raid in the army town of Abottabad, carried out without its knowledge, that killed bin Laden.

Many Pakistanis are angered by the deaths of civilians in drone attacks and they blame the US for the growing Taliban militancy on their soil.

Islamabad's demands for a new security agreement intensified after a Nato air raid killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the border with Afghanistan.

A US military investigation said Pakistani and American forces were both to blame. Pakistan rejected the probe as "short on facts".

Pakistan responded to the strike by closing land routes for supplies to Nato-led forces in Afghanistan and ordering US forces out of an airbase in the south-west that was used by CIA-operated drones for attacks on militant targets in the border regions.

A parliamentary panel is looking into agreements with the US struck by the former president, General Pervez Musharraf, after Islamabad joined the US-led war on terrorism following the September 11 attacks in 2001.

"The recommendations have not been finalised but the bottom line is that they should not cross our red lines," a senior government official involved in the wide-ranging review said. "Three things are very clear: We are going to ask them to respect our sovereignty; we will tell them that there should not be any Abottabad-like raids and if there is any credible information about the presence of important militants, they should share it with us for action instead of taking it on their own and must not make any drone attack without our consent if at all it is necessary."

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that there should not be any random strikes that also cause civilian deaths and give an opportunity to militants to exploit public sentiments and hence complicate Pakistan's own fight against militancy.

Pakistan also wants "full reimbursements" of the cost incurred to its infrastructure by the US forces.

The US has already given Pakistan billions in development and military aid.

"We want a well-defined framework and everything should be put in black and white in clear terms," he said, adding that the review might take a few weeks to complete.

The prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, said yesterday that the review's recommendations would go to parliament for approval.

Relations between Pakistan and the US have always been plagued by mistrust and suspicion.

US officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan, particularly its main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of maintaining links with militant groups, particularly the Haqqani network, the brutal Afghan faction involved in violence against US forces in Afghanistan and the attack on the US embassy in Kabul this year.

Just weeks before his retirement, Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in September described the Haqqani network as "veritable arm" of ISI.

Pakistan has rejected the allegations.

Islamabad has often complained about what it says is Washington's tilt towards India, with which Pakistan has fought three wars and has strained relations.

Critics say Pakistan may use militant groups, such as the Haqqani network, as a leverage to check India's influence in Afghanistan after US troops leave the country by 2014.

Bin Laden was discovered and killed by US forces just a few kilometres from Pakistan military's main academy, raising doubts about Pakistan's reliability as a US partner in the war against militants.

Pakistan viewed the raid as an infringement on its sovereignty.

Infuriated, Islamabad halved the number of US military, restricted CIA activities in the country and put limits on visas for US government personnel and security contractors.

Washington suspended a large chunk of military aid.

"The relations are not the same as they were before but it's not total breakdown," the senior Pakistani official said.

But analysts say both countries would continue to work together despite mistrust.

"It's a need-based relationship. The US wants Pakistan's help to extricate itself from Afghanistan while Pakistan badly needs assistance from international financial institutions and it wants US to use its influence for this purpose," Imtiaz Gul, a security analyst at the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad said. "Neither of them can afford to sever ties altogether."