Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari called for “serious dialogue” with the United States on Sunday, amid a fierce dispute over US claims that his intelligence agency has links to Islamist militants.
“Democracy always favors dialogue over confrontation,” Zardari wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that decried the recent “verbal assaults” of some US officials against Pakistan.
“It is time for the rhetoric to cool and for serious dialogue between allies to resume.”
Last week, the top US military officer Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen accused Pakistan of exporting violence to Afghanistan through proxies and charged that the Haqqani network, an Al-Qaeda-linked group, was a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.
Expressing regret over the growing tensions between the United States and Pakistan, which have struggled to overcome sharp differences to forge an alliance in the years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Zardari said it was the militants who had gained the most from the spat.
He stressed Pakistan’s role in fighting terror threats, the many lives (see editor note below) it has lost among its security forces and civilian population and the huge cost of the anti-terror campaign.
Islamabad is preparing for “post-withdrawal realities” after the United States removes its ground troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Zardari said, recalling how Washington left Afghanistan in the 1980s after the Soviet defeat there and did little to invest in reconstruction or development.
“Whoever comes or goes, it is our coming generation that will face the firestorm. We have to live in the neighborhood. So why is it unreasonable for us to be concerned about the immediate and long-term situation of our Western border?” he asked.
“We struggle to hold the line against the tidal wave of extremism that surges into Pakistan each day from internationally controlled areas of Afghanistan. While we are accused of harboring extremism, the United States is engaged in outreach and negotiations with the very same groups.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week also called for better US-Pakistani ties, although she said “serious questions” remain about Pakistan’s support for militants.
Clinton stressed in her remarks on Thursday however that the two countries “have a lot of interests that are in common, most particularly the fight against terrorism.”
In a report to Congress on US operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the White House said that Pakistani counter-insurgency operations in restive tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan were getting worse.
An unclassified version of the report said that tension between the two governments over the US raid in May which killed Osama bin Laden had also hit cooperation between American and Pakistani military officers in the region.
But Zardari warned that “recent accusations against us have been a serious setback to the war effort and our joint strategic interests.”
He added: “When we don’t strategize together, and when an ally is informed instead of consulted, we both suffer.”
Editor Note: Pakistan has over 140,000 troops deployed on its Western border with Afghanistan, more than any other nation. The toll on economy and human life has been unimaginable, with 35,000 dead civilians due to daily drone attacks, suicide and car bomb attacks and over $70 billion lost in economy, according to official sources. Whoever questions Pakistan’s commitment and contribution in War against Terror needs to have their head examined.