Pakistan to Panetta: No U.S. boots on the ground

Pakistani protesters belonging to United Citizen Action torch a US flag as they shout slogans during a protest in Multan on June 10, 2011 against the US drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas. Thirteen attacks have been reported in Pakistan's tribal belt since US commandos found and killed Al-Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad, before flying off with his body and burying it at sea. Washington has called Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwest tribal region the most dangerous place on earth and the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda, where Taliban and other Al-Qaeda-linked networks have carved out strongholds. AFP PHOTO/ S.S. MIRZA (Photo credit should read S.S. MIRZA/AFP/Getty Images) S.S. MIRZA

Pakistanis torch a U.S. flag during a protest against American drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, in Multan, June 10, 2011.
S.S. Mirza/AFP/Getty Images
ISLAMABAD - CIA Director Leon Panetta arrived in Islamabad on an unannounced visit Friday, his first to the country since bin Laden's killing. He came to urge Pakistan to reconsider its decision to seek the removal of nearly 100 U.S. military trainers tasked with helping the country's army cope with its conflict with al Qaeda and the Taliban, according to a senior Pakistani government official who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity.

Western diplomats say that, while Pakistan depends on the U.S. for billions of dollars in military and economic assistance, Washington also requires Pakistan's help to gather intelligence on the movement of militants across the Afghan-Pakistan border.

But Pakistan's position has hardened on the issue of full-fledged military operations in north Waziristan ever since U.S. Navy SEALs attacked and killed Osama bin Laden in the northern city of Abbottabad last month. The country's civil and military leaders reacted angrily to the attack, arguing that any operation by foreign forces in the country must be undertaken only with Pakistan's prior knowledge and permission.

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The decision to seek the removal of American forces is widely seen as another sign of hardening anti-U.S. sentiment among Pakistan's top army generals.

"Mr. Panetta was told point blank, there will be no U.S. boots on the ground," said the Pakistani government official who spoke to CBS News.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's civil and military leaders promised Saturday to step up efforts for a reconciliation between Afghanistan's ruling structure and members of the pro-Taliban "Haqqani" network, but left the future of their support contingent upon U.S. acceptance of the hardliner movement.

On the second day of a high-profile visit to Pakistan by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, a Pakistani minister who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity said, "President Karzai is returning to Afghanistan with the promise of our stepped-up support for a reconciliation between his government and the Haqqanis. The only catch is whether the U.S. will be equally willing to accept that the Taliban - including the Haqqanis - cannot be militarily defeated, and have a political role."

Western diplomats responding to the news said that Pakistan's promise marked a potential breakthrough at a time when the Obama administration appears to be keen on consolidating military gains inside Afghanistan while supporting a peace process to end the conflict.

The minister's comments appeared to reflect the clearest indication yet of Pakistan's determination to push for a reconciliation between the ruling structure (led by Karzai) and its Taliban foes.

Separately, at a news conference appearing alongside Karzai, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was asked specifically about the extent of Pakistan's cooperation in bringing the Haqqani network to the negotiating table. "Whatever is in our capacity, we will be ready to assist," he replied.

The network is named after legendary Afghan warlord Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, a key U.S.-backed insurgent commander in the 1980s who used weapons provided by the U.S. to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan. But since the 9/11 terror attacks, the Haqqani network has emerged as one of the leading groups in the Taliban camp that continues to resist U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

For the past two years, the U.S. has pushed Pakistan to attack what Washington believes are camps run by the Haqqani network in the country's north Waziristan region, along the Afghan border.

American officials consider the future of the Haqqani network - now run by a son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin Haqqani - as an important determinant of the conflict in Afghanistan.

  • Farhan Bokhari

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