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Talks Meltdown: US-Pakistan Relations Crumbling Further

Pakistani anger over attacks on troops, "illegal" drone attacks

Common Dreams staff

In a sign of growing tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, today the U.S. withdrew its negotiators from Pakistan who were there for talks on the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.

Last November, American airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani troops at two Afghan border posts. President Obama has refused to apologize to Pakistan for the attacks. Pakistan retaliated by kicking the US out of a base used by American drones and closing its border to NATO supplies meant for troops in Afghanistan.

This latest development in the talks comes on the heels of US defense secretary Leon Panetta's visit to the Afghan capital of Kabul last week, when he said that the Washington was running out of patience with Pakistan.

A U.S. official, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, described the U.S.-Pakistan relationship as "the worst it has ever been."

Last week the Pakistani foreign ministry called the US drone attacks “illegal” and said they violated the country’s sovereignty. Pakistan is fed up with Washington’s constant demands for more without addressing Islamabad’s concerns or sufficiently appreciating the country’s sacrifice. Pakistan has lost thousands of troops fighting a domestic Taliban insurgency fueled partly by resentment of the alliance with the US.

Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani ambassador to the US, said the relationship "has taken on attributes and characteristics now of a near adversarial relationship... Because of the toxic atmosphere on both sides, the two countries cannot even work in a transactional way.”

Foreshadowing further attacks, the Guardian reports that "the explicit and repeated criticism of Pakistan... could signal US willingness to up the tempo of the drone strikes." And Associated Press quotes an unnamed official who admits that the drone strikes on Pakistan have been retaliatory, acknowledging Thursday "that the recent increase in drone strikes on insurgents in Pakistan is due in part to frustration with Islamabad"

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The Hill reports:

American negotiators working with Pakistan to reopen critical supply routes into Afghanistan have been called back to the United States, casting further doubt on whether the lines will ever be reopened to U.S. and coalition forces.

Defense Department spokesman George Little told reporters on Monday that several members of the U.S. negotiation team had already left Islamabad, with the remaining members scheduled to depart the country within days.

The team had been in Pakistan for the past six weeks, attempting to hammer out a deal to open the supply lines that had been closed to American and NATO forces since last November, according to recent news reports.

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Al Jazeera: US withdraws supply negotiators from Pakistan

[N]o breakthrough was imminent and there was no scheduled date for a resumption of the negotiations, [George Little, Pentagon spokesman] said.

The comments came after Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, refused last week to meet US assistant defence secretary Peter Lavoy, who traveled to Pakistan to try to resolve the dispute, officials said. [...]

Pakistan's envoy to the US had warned that Panetta's comments last Thursday in Kabul were unhelpful to efforts to narrow the differences between the two countries and came at a critical moment in negotiations.

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