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Pakistan leaders call for peace in Afghanistan
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's political leaders voiced their support Thursday for the country's powerful army in its destabilizing standoff with the United States over allegations the force supports insurgents attacking American troops in Afghanistan.
More than 40 political party leaders signed a resolution after a 10-hour meeting in the capital called by Prime Minister Reza Yousuf Gilani to formulate a response to fresh American claims that the army and the nation's spy agency is supporting the Haqqani network. U.S. officials say the Haqqani group is based on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border and is the most deadly militant faction in Afghanistan.
The vaguely worded resolution, born of compromise between the country's feuding parties and reflective of many of their anti-American and pro-Islamist views, called for peace with insurgents in Afghanistan. It also said the country should seek dialogue with Pakistanis in the tribal regions close to Afghanistan, apparently in reference to militants there battling the Pakistani state.
The head of the army and the country's main intelligence agency, which together control Islamabad's policy toward Afghanistan, addressed the meeting, which was closed to the media.
Few expected the delegates to stake out a position that challenged the army, and it is unlikely their rhetoric will ever be reflected in policy. Other similar resolutions have been ignored. At the very least, it was a signal to Washington that the country's elected representatives supported the military, and as such will do nothing to ease strains with Washington.
"‘Give peace a chance' must be the guiding central principle henceforth," said the resolution, regarding Afghanistan. "Pakistan must initiate dialogue with a view to negotiate peace with our own people in the tribal areas and a proper mechanism for this be put in place."
The claims last week by Adm. Mike Mullen, America's top military officer, sent relations between Islamabad and Washington plummeting and triggered a backlash against America.
The resolution also referenced veiled U.S. threats of unilateral action against the Haqqanis if Pakistan does not act, saying the "the Pakistani nation affirms its full solidarity and support for the armed forces of Pakistan in defeating any threat to national security."
U.S. officials have long talked with Islamabad about links between Pakistan and the militant Haqqani network that is behind much of the violence in Afghanistan. But those discussions were mostly held in private, in the hope that Pakistan could gradually be persuaded to sever the purported ties with the group.
But Mullen seemed to signal a new approach last Friday when he told Congress that that Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the spy agency, which he said supported the militants in a recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
Pakistani officials have denied the allegations, and accused Washington of making them a scapegoat for U.S. failures in Afghanistan.
Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, the president of the Awami Muslim League, said the head of the army and the spy agency told participants that they had no link with the Haqqani network, but that any contacts they did have were with the "political wing" of the movement and were concerned with the formation of any future government in Afghanistan.
Most analysts say the Pakistani army and the spy agency are tolerating or even supporting the Haqqani network because they want to cultivate it as an ally in Afghanistan once the Americans withdraw. They see little chance of the top brass attacking the group now, especially when the U.S. is calling for peace talks with other militant factions in Afghanistan.
This view has support in Pakistan, where many people perceive the Americans as the illegitimate force in Afghanistan, not the Afghan Taliban. But others oppose it because the militants are ideologically allied to al-Qaida and other extremists who have carried out scores of bombings on Pakistani soil over the last four years.