Pakistani and U.S. officials on Tuesday emphasized the need for trust between their countries to counter the al-Qaida and the Taliban threat, but Pakistan's foreign minister reiterated his opposition to American airstrikes on his country's soil.
U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and Adm. Mike Mullen of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were visiting Pakistan on the heels of President Barack Obama's announcement of plans to reinvigorate the war in Afghanistan by sending more troops to the region and boosting aid to Pakistan to help it stave off al-Qaida and Taliban-led militancy on its soil.
Pakistani leaders say they are happy about getting billions more dollars in assistance, but Obama's insistence that the money won't come without conditions - no "blank check" - has rankled some here and underscored a trust deficit between the two camps.
"We can only work together if we respect each other and trust each other," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said during a joint news conference.
It was a sentiment echoed by Mullen, who said he was committed to improving the nations' relationship.
"I think it's important for us to seek a surplus of trust (instead of) a deficit of trust," he said during the brief gathering.
Pakistan's civilian government points to the deaths of hundreds of Pakistani troops in battling insurgents along the Afghan frontier in questioning the line from Washington. But U.S. officials have complained that the country's spy agency still has ties to some militant groups, something Pakistan denies.
"Pakistan is committed in eliminating extremism from the society, for which it needs unconditional support by the international community in the fields of education, health, training and provision of equipment for fighting terrorism," Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said in a statement after meeting the envoys.
Zardari also urged the use of negotiations to resolve some tensions with the militants, something the U.S. is considering.
"Military action is only one aspect of the solution," the statement said.
Pakistan faces rising terrorist attacks on its soil by militants upset over its cooperation with the United States.
There is widespread concern among Pakistanis that cooperating with the U.S. is what is damaging the nation's security.
Many Pakistanis also are irritated with U.S. missile strikes on militant targets in the northwest, and the government has officially and repeatedly requested they be stopped because they inflame anti-American sentiment.
Just days ago, a senior Taliban commander warned that the group would carry out two suicide bombings per week in Pakistan unless the U.S. stops its missile strikes on militant targets in the country's northwest.
On the subject of the missile strikes, "There's a gap between us and them," Qureshi insisted Tuesday.
Many analysts suspect the two countries have a secret deal allowing the strikes, which American officials say have killed some top militant leaders.
The foreign minister further said that Pakistan has "red lines" that should not be crossed, but would only specify its objection to any sort of U.S. ground operation on its territory when asked to elaborate.
Asked about whether the U.S. could simply hand over Predator drones to the Pakistanis so they could carry out the strikes, Mullen did not directly answer, but said the Americans were eager to share counter-insurgency techniques and lessons learned from the Iraq war with their Pakistani counterparts.
Holbrooke said the countries face a common challenge and task.
"We have had a long and complicated history, our two countries," he said. "We cannot put the past behind us, but we must learn from it and move forward."
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