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Pakistan Rejects US Rhetoric on 'Safe Havens'

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Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan is reacting strongly to U.S. allegations it is letting militants use Pakistani soil as a safe haven and base of operations.

The Foreign Ministry slammed Washington and comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Saturday, charging that Panetta "is oversimplifying some very complex issues."

It also said the allegations raised by Panetta during a recent trip to Kabul were also "misplaced and unhelpful in bringing about peace and stability in the region."

The foreign ministry statement followed similarly critical remarks by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, made to Chinese state-run television late Friday.

"It is proven in the world now that all the world together has not been able to defeat this monster called terrorism in Afghanistan so to expect Pakistan to face it alone is unfair, Pakistan is doing its best," Zardari said.

No surprise

New York Times reporter and Afghan analyst Ismail Khan told VOA's Deewa Radio that Panetta's comments, and the Pakistani response, should come as no surprise.

"Whenever there is a surge in violence in Afghanistan, or the casualty rises, U.S. officials attribute the increasing attacks to terrorists in the tribal areas of Pakistan," Khan said.

Panetta has said stabilization efforts in Afghanistan will remain difficult as long as militants had safe havens in Pakistan. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry says it is following a "well thought-out strategy to eradicate extremism and terrorism, and will follow its own timeline."

Strained relations

Relations between Islamabad and Washington have been strained over a host of issues recently, including Pakistan's closing the border to NATO trucks in response to the killing of 24 Pakistani troops by NATO forces.

Still, some experts say this most recent turn of events may be heralding a new era in Pakistan-U.S. relations.

Shaheen Akhtar at the Institute of Regional Studies in Islamabad tells VOA's Urdu Service that while this new dynamic is not surprising, the stakes are high.

"Both the U.S. and Pakistan have their own interests," he noted. "Both have domestic pressures and both are looking the developments in the prospects of Afghanistan’s future. But the situation is leading toward brinkmanship and it is on a dangerous turn."

Not giving in

Kamran Bukhari, vice president of Middle East Analysis at STRATFOR, tells VOA's Urdu Service the recent comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta clearly signal Islamabad is no longer willing to give in to demands from Washington for minor concessions.

"Now, some sort of resistance is coming forth from Islamabad [to assert its viewpoint]. This is a new environment, a new reality that U.S. had never dealt with. So, the United States is now trying to adjust with it or manage the situation," Bukhari said.

Still, Bukhari says Pakistan and the U.S. can only push each other so much because the basic realities on the ground have not changed.

"Cooperation between the two countries can not be diminishing completely because U.S. needs Pakistan and Pakistan requires the United States more intensely," he explained. " Also, Pakistan cannot afford animosity with United States. So, I think, both the countries will compromise where ever it is possible."

Diplomacy

That need to compromise may come into play in the next few days as U.S. assistant defense secretary Peter Lavoy visits Islamabad in a fresh attempt to end Islamabad's six-month blockade of NATO supplies bound for Afghanistan.

Pakistan closed the border to NATO supply convoys following air strikes last November that killed 24 soldiers. Relations between the two nations also sank after Pakistan was humiliated by the U.S. raid that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil last May.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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