ISLAMABAD – Foreign Office on Saturday branded the US defence secretary’s remarks on insurgent safe havens in the country as ‘misplaced and unhelpful’ while President Asif Ali Zardari played down Leon Panetta’s statement terming it a political gimmick.
Panetta warned Pakistan on Thursday that the US was running out of patience over Islamabad’s refusal to do more to eliminate hiding places for insurgents, who attack US troops fighting a 10-year war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“Pakistan strongly rejects the assertions made recently by US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta regarding ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan,” foreign ministry spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan said in a statement.
“We feel that the Secretary of Defence is oversimplifying some of the very complex issues we are all dealing with in our efforts against extremism and terrorism. These issues need to be seen in the context of overall peace and stability in Afghanistan and the broader region.”
Panetta singled out the Haqqani network, a Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked faction that has bases in Pakistan’s tribal district of North Waziristan and which has been blamed for some of the deadliest attacks of the 10-year war in Afghanistan.
“Pakistan has repeatedly said that it will not allow its territory to be used against any country, nor will it allow any safe havens on its territory,” the spokesman said, adding that Islamabad will “follow its own timeline” and strategy on operations against militants. He stressed that Pakistan was fighting terrorism and extremism in its own national interest and “nobody should doubt our resolve and determination in this regard”.
“Our sacrifices remain unparalleled and our resolve unshakable,” he said. “We strongly believe that such statements are misplaced and unhelpful in bringing about peace and stability in the region.”
The foreign ministry statement followed similarly critical remarks by President Asif Ali Zardari, made to a Chinese daily on Friday night.
Asked about his opinion on Panetta’s remarks, Zardari said: “I think sometimes politicians speak for political reasons. It is an election year in the US. Most of the comments coming from the US are based on their internal political condition.”
“Nobody understands the effects of the war on Pakistan. We have lost 40,000 people and... suffered economically from terrorist attacks and activities,” Zardari said. “We are victims of terror ... It seems like Pakistan is abetting terrorists, but it is the wrong perception,” he said. Zardari, however, said the Pak-US bilateral ties will become normal in the course of time. “We (Pakistan, US) have mutual interests. Slowly but surely, we will get back to normal relations,” Zardari told China Daily.
About the SCO, Zardari said: “the SCO is very young, and obviously it is taking its own time to grow. But it shows the world that this is the path we’re taking.”