ISLAMABAD, (AP) – Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told two top U.S. envoys that his country needs “unconditional support” in a range of areas to defeat the al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters threatening its survival.
The sentiments reflect Pakistani dissatisfaction with American pledges to tack conditions onto billions in expected aid funds designed to help Pakistan end militancy in its borders.
Zardari met with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff late Monday, according to a press release from the president’s office that described the encounter. Holbrooke was due to address reporters Tuesday in a late morning news conference along with the Pakistani foreign minister.
The envoys’ visit is the first by American officials since President Barack Obama laid out his strategy for reinvigorating the Afghan war effort last month. It also came on the heels of a threat by a senior Pakistani Taliban commander to carry out two suicide bombings a week unless the U.S. stops its drone-fired missile strikes in Pakistan’s militant-infested northwest region bordering Afghanistan.
Obama has urged Pakistan’s government to take the terrorist fight seriously, but has said his pledges for billions in increased aid to the country will come with unspecified conditions and measures to judge the performance of the Muslim nation in the fight against militants.
That has irked Pakistani officials and underscored a trust deficit exacerbated by U.S. concerns that Pakistan’s top spy agency is maintaining links the Taliban and other groups involved in attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has denied any spy links and defended its commitment by pointing to the hundreds of Pakistani troops killed in a series of operations along the Afghan border since Pakistan dropped support for the Afghan Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“Pakistan is committed in eliminating extremism from the society, for which it needs unconditional support by the international community in the fields of education, health, training and provision of equipment for fighting terrorism,” Zardari’s statement said.
Zardari also urged the use of negotiations to resolve some tensions with the militants, something the U.S. is considering.
“Military action is only one aspect of the solution,” the statement said.
Pakistan faces rising terrorist attacks on its soil by militants upset over its cooperation with the United States. Pakistani citizens have held protests denouncing recent attacks, but there is widespread worry that cooperating with the U.S. in the anti-terrorist fight is what is damaging the nation’s security.
Many Pakistanis also are irritated with U.S. missile strikes on militant targets in the northwest, and the government has officially and repeatedly requested they be stopped. However, many analysts suspect the two countries have a secret deal allowing the strikes, which American officials say have killed some top militant leaders.
Hakimullah Mehsud, a deputy to Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, warned this week that the group would carry out two suicide bombings per week in Pakistan unless the U.S. stops the missile strikes.