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Pakistan snubs US over new Taliban offensive

Pakistan army soldiers near Multan on 18 January 2010
Pakistan's army launched major anti-militant offensives last year

Pakistan's army has said it will launch no new offensives on militants in 2010, as the US defence secretary arrived for talks on combating Taliban fighters.

Army spokesman Athar Abbas told the BBC the "overstretched" military had no plans for any fresh anti-militant operations over the next 12 months.

Our correspondent says the comments are a clear snub to Washington.

The US would like Pakistan to expand an offensive against militants launching cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Pakistan on Thursday for his first visit since US President Barack Obama took office last year.

'Embarrassing'

The one-day trip comes at a crucial time in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, with the US planning to commit 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in New Delhi, India, on 20 January 2010
You can't ignore one part of this cancer and pretend it won't impact closer to home
Robert Gates
US Defence Secretary

Mr Gates was expected to tell Pakistan that it could do more against top Taliban leaders operating in its territory, some of whom are alleged to have close links to Pakistan's ISI intelligence service.

The Pakistani army launched major ground offensives in 2009 in the north-west against Pakistani Taliban strongholds in the Swat region, last April, and in South Waziristan, last October.

The militants have hit back with a wave of suicide bombings and attacks that have killed hundreds of people across Pakistan.

In the capital, Islamabad, on Thursday, Maj Gen Abbas, head of public relations for the Pakistan army, told the BBC: "We are not going to conduct any major new operations against the militants over the next 12 months.

"The Pakistan army is overstretched and it is not in a position to open any new fronts. Obviously, we will continue our present operations in Waziristan and Swat."

'Trust deficit'

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad says the comments are a clear brush-off to top US officials.

Our correspondent adds they are embarrassing for Pakistan's shaky coalition government, and likely to further destabilise already-low ties with its US ally.

Map

He says it also threatens to render ineffective an expanded coalition troop deployment in Afghanistan, as the Taliban over the border would be relieved of any pressure from the Pakistan army.

Before arriving in Islamabad, Mr Gates told reporters travelling with him from India: "You can't ignore one part of this cancer and pretend that it won't have some impact closer to home."

His visit comes amidst a slight cooling in relations between the two allies. In an article published in a Pakistani newspaper on Thursday, Mr Gates referred to a "trust deficit".

As well as talking with his counterpart, Ahmed Mukhtar, the US defence secretary is expected to meet Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Zardari.

Talks were also expected to focus on US drone strikes against militants near the Afghan border.

Hundreds of people - many of them militants, but many more civilians - have died in the attacks, which have stoked deep resentment of the US among many Pakistanis.

But our correspondent says Mr Gates will argue that drone strikes are the only effective measure against the Taliban.

Pakistan has been an important US partner in South Asia since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US.



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