United States Talks Fail as Pakistanis Seek Apology (NY) TIMES) By DECLAN WALSH, ERIC SCHMITT and STEVEN LEE MYERS ISLAMABAD, Pakistan 04/28/12)
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The latest high-level talks on ending a
diplomatic deadlock between the United States and Pakistan ended in
failure on Friday over Pakistani demands for an unconditional apology
from the Obama administration for an airstrike. The White House,
angered by the recent spectacular Taliban attacks in Afghanistan,
refuses to apologize.
The Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan,
Marc Grossman, left the Pakistani capital Friday night with no
agreement after two days of discussions aimed at patching up the
damage caused by the American airstrikes last November that killed 24
Pakistani soldiers on the Afghanistan border.
Both sides insist that they are now ready to make up and restore an
uneasy alliance that at its best offers support for American efforts
in Afghanistan as well as the battle against some extremist groups
operating from Pakistan. The administration had been seriously
debating whether to say “I’m sorry” to the Pakistanis’ satisfaction —
until April 15, when multiple, simultaneous attacks struck Kabul and
other Afghan cities.
“What changed was the 15th of April,” said a senior administration
American military and intelligence officials concluded the attacks
came at the direction of a group working from a base in North
Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal belt: the Haqqani network, an
association of border criminals and smugglers that has mounted lethal
attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan. That confirmed longstanding
American mistrust about Pakistani intentions — a poison that infects
nearly every other aspect of the strained relationship. That swung
the raging debate on whether Mr. Obama or another senior American
should go beyond the expression of regret that the administration had
already given, and apologize.
The negotiations are complicated by a complex web of interlocking
demands from both sides. Without the apology, Pakistani officials say
they cannot reopen NATO supply routes into Afghanistan that have been
closed since November.
The Americans, in turn, are withholding between $1.18 billion and $3
billion of promised military aid — the exact figure depending on
which side is speaking.
The continuing deadlock does not bode well for Pakistan’s attendance
at a NATO meeting in Chicago in three weeks, assuming it is even
invited. The administration has been eager to cast the event as a
regional security summit meeting, and Pakistan’s absence would be
Administration officials acknowledged Friday that the stalemate would
not be resolved quickly. “This is the beginning of the re-engagement
conversation,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman,
said in Washington. “We’re going to have to work through these
issues, and it’s going to take some time.”
The two countries at least are relieved to have started talking. A
series of visits and discussions in recent weeks included a meeting
between Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the
sidelines of a nuclear summit meeting in Seoul, South Korea, last
month. Since the Pakistani Parliament completed a review of relations
with the United States, Americans have repeatedly vowed to respect
the will of Pakistan’s lawmakers, even though they demanded an end to
American drone strikes, which the United States sees as crucial in
fighting militants hiding in Pakistan’s border areas.
Aside from the apparently intractable issues of drones and the
apology, the two countries focused on four specific areas of
potential cooperation: counterterrorism, the NATO supply lines,
military aid payments and the Taliban peace process.
Yet there was an undeniable sense of wariness, driven by the
pressures of domestic politics, with Mr. Obama facing re-election
this year and Pakistan due for elections in the coming 12 months.
Pakistanis’ rage has been rising since a shooting in Lahore in
January 2011 that involved a C.I.A. employee and fueled common
fantasies about being overrun by rogue spies. The American operation
to kill Osama bin Laden a few months later was taken as a stunning
breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
An American apology is also problematic given Republican pressures
weighing on Mr. Obama and the hostility of a Congress with little
patience for Pakistan. “The politics of election year in both
countries are slowing down the resolution of admittedly vexed issues
in an environment of persistent mistrust,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a
former Pakistani ambassador to Washington.
The Haqqani network has re-emerged as a focal American issue,
particularly after the April 15 attacks. The next day, Secretary of
State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina
Rabbani Khar, that “there has to be a concerted effort by the
Pakistanis with the Afghans, with the others of us, against
extremists of all kinds.”
American officials refused Friday to say whether there were any links
between Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence
Directorate, or ISI, and the Haqqani network’s latest attacks. One
said the intelligence on the issue was “constantly evolving.” Others
in Washington say they have not yet found any such ties.
New details about the attacks have emerged in the past two weeks,
according to Afghan and American officials. While it is possible that
some fighters were smuggled into Afghanistan over time and in small
numbers, and that some weapons and ammunition were pre-staged, many
may have been brought in from Pakistan only a day or two before the
attacks, said a senior American military officer in Afghanistan.
“Our initial assessment is they probably moved them in a last moment
to avoid detection,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of
anonymity because of the continuing inquiry.
Officials have also identified a possible intelligence gap. Ethnic
infighting at the top of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the
National Directorate of Security, may have resulted in key people
failing to pass on information that could have helped derail the
At this week’s meetings in Islamabad, new ideas were gently sounded
A senior Pakistani official said his country was offering a “wide
menu of counterterrorism options” in a bid to at least slow down the
rate of drone strikes. Pakistan has also offered to send F-16 fighter
jets to strike Taliban and Qaeda targets in the tribal belt.
United States officials have said that if Pakistan would not or could
not strike insurgents in places like Miram Shah, the capital of North
Waziristan, then the drone attacks would have to continue. With
Pakistan refusing at least publicly to condone the strikes, the two
sides seem at an impasse.
“The policy of the government is very, very clear,” Pakistan’s
foreign secretary, Jalil Abbas Jilani, said Thursday. “We consider
drones as illegal, counterproductive and, accordingly, unacceptable.”
Another Pakistani official, however, conceded, “Privately, we know
they are unlikely to stop.”
The reopening of NATO supply lines is important for the United States
military to support troops currently in Afghanistan, but also to help
withdraw tons of weapons and matériel out as a major drawdown
approaches in 2014. But, the senior Obama administration official
added, Pakistan’s support for the NATO lines was about politics as
much as logistics. “Our NATO partners see them as increasingly
problematic, not as a partner,” he said. “If they don’t restore this,
those feelings will become intensified over time.”
Declan Walsh reported from Islamabad, and Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee
Myers from Washington. Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from
Kabul, Afghanistan. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company
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