Beijing is sending a senior politician for talks Monday with President Asif Ali Zardari, two days after the Chinese foreign ministry warned the U.S. to respect Pakistan’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
That counsel came after a series of senior U.S. officials – Ambassador to Islamabad Cameron Munter, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta – accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of supporting the Haqqani terrorist network in carrying out attacks in Afghanistan, including an audacious Sept. 13 assault on the U.S. Embassy.
The U.S. has renewed longstanding calls for Pakistan’s military to act against the Haqqani network in its tribal belt stronghold of North Waziristan. The Pentagon warned that the U.S. would retaliate if necessary against fighters holed up on Pakistani soil.
Pakistan has hotly denied allegations of complicity, and on Sunday army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani held an extraordinary meeting with top commanders to discuss the deepening crisis.
The Geo News broadcaster reported, without attribution, that the officers had vowed to retaliate appropriately to any cross-border incursion, and it said Kayani would meet with Zardari to relay their decisions.
Before returning home, Khar told Pakistani television that her country had “red lines” in its relationship with the U.S. that should not be crossed, warning that Washington risked losing an ally in the campaign against terrorism.
Earlier, Gilani said a rift would only benefit “terrorists and militants.”
“Pakistan’s credentials and sacrifices in the counter-terrorism campaign are impeccable and unquestionable,” he said in a policy statement Saturday.
Gilani attributed the U.S. accusations to disarray in Washington over the way ahead in Afghanistan, where insurgent attacks – including assassinations of senior figures – have escalated in recent months.
Pakistan cannot be held responsible for the security of coalition forces in Afghanistan, he said, calling for “mutual recriminations” to end.
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have been uneasy for years, but tensions soared after the killing of Osama bin Laden in a compound near Pakistan’s top military academy last May. The incident angered Pakistan because U.S. forces operated in its territory without permission – and fuelled U.S. suspicions that Pakistan had knowledge of the fugitive terrorist’s whereabouts.
On Sunday, Zardari met with senior Chinese foreign ministry official Luo Zhaohui and expressed Islamabad’s appreciation for China’s “consistent support.”
On Monday, Chinese State Councilor Meng Jianzhu will arrive for further discussions and a show of solidarity. (State councilors are senior members of China’s cabinet equivalent, below vice premiers and above ministers in the hierarchy.)
In an editorial on Sunday, the Lahore-based daily The Nation praised China as “our genuine, age-old friend and a towering world power that does not throw its weight around.”
“Recent events have laid bare the American designs in the region that are indisputably against Pakistan’s national interests, leaving no room for Islamabad to continue with the policy of a close alliance with the U.S.” it said.
“It is high time we changed the course of foreign policy and unhesitatingly committed ourselves to the revival of the spirit of deep understanding and economic and military equation with Beijing that had previously prevailed,” the editorial added.
Chinese assistance for Pakistan in recent years has included help in building a deep water port strategically located near the mouth of the Persian Gulf and in expanding Pakistan’s civilian nuclear energy facilities.
Bilateral trade stands at around $10 billion. According to Pakistani diplomat Hasan Javed China has constructed projects in Pakistan worth some $20 billion, with another $14 billion in the pipeline.
‘Saber-rattling and evil games’
Pakistani commentators’ views of the dispute with the U.S. ranged from questioning Islamabad’s “brinkmanship” to conspiracy theories about a Western agenda to denuclearize Pakistan.
An editorial in Lahore’s Daily Times Sunday referred to “delusionary, misplaced nationalism,” warning that any U.S. decision to reduce its logistic dependence on Pakistan would have a political and economic impact that would hurt the latter “gravely.”
The News cautioned against “exaggerated mutual expectations,” saying Pakistan must “put its own house in order” while the U.S. should “acknowledge that Pakistan has to be an integral part of the negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.”
The Nation, in another editorial, said the Pakistani nation must unite behind a response to the U.S. “saber-rattling” – with possible options including cutting off NATO supply lines, shooting down drones or “parting ways” with the U.S. anti-terror campaign – “so that the U.S. should know that Pakistan means business and knows how to protect itself against its evil games.”
The Frontier Post of Peshawar viewed Washington’s “obscene malicious propaganda” about complicity with the Haqqanis as an attempt “to camouflage their abysmal collapse in Afghanistan.”
International affairs analyst Sajjad Shaukat said the U.S. was using the Haqqani issue as a “ploy” to cover up its “defeatism” in Afghanistan and to distract Americans’ attention from economic problems at home.
Writing in a South Asia Research and Analysis Studies article, Shaukat also accused the CIA, along with the Indian and Israeli foreign intelligence agencies, of trying to destabilize Pakistan, suggesting that one aim of this alleged plot is to force Islamabad to surrender its nuclear arsenal.
With historical ties to the ISI going back to the 1980s, the Haqqani network is one of three main elements of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, the other two being Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Quetta Shura and Hezb-i-Islami, a group led by Pashtun warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The network is closely linked to militant and religious organizations inside Pakistan-proper, and Imtiaz Gul, head of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, wrote in an analysis that Pakistani officials have not explained clearly enough to the U.S. about the implications for Pakistan’s security should it take direct action against the Haqqanis.
CNN on Friday quoted an unnamed U.S. military official as saying that collusion with the Haqqani network “goes right to the top of the ISI.”
“The ISI is providing financing, safe haven, advice and guidance” to the network, the official said.
The U.S. government has designated as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” Haqqani founder Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons Badruddin, Nasiruddin and Sirajuddin. The move is in line with a post-9/11 executive order designed to disrupt funding to terrorists, by freezing any assets they may have in the U.S. and prohibiting American citizens from engaging in transactions with them.
The State Department says Badruddin Haqqani “helps lead insurgents and foreign fighters in attacks against targets in southeastern Afghanistan” and also sits on a body with command and control over all activities.