U.S. President Barack Obama has accused Islamabad of having connections to what he called "unsavory characters" and said if it doesn't become more attuned to Washington's concerns, it could risk damaging the two countries' long-term relationship.
Speaking at a White House press conference, Obama gave his most detailed assessment to date of how the U.S. views Pakistan's strategic calculations in the war between insurgents and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"Our goal of being able to transition out of Afghanistan and leave a stable government behind, one that is independent, one that is respectful of human rights, one that is democratic -- that Pakistan, I think, has been more ambivalent about some of our goals there," Obama said.
"And I think that they have hedged their bets in terms of what Afghanistan would look like. And part of hedging their bets is having interactions with some of the unsavory characters who they think might end up regaining power in Afghanistan after coalition forces have left."
He said, "There is no doubt that there's some connections that the Pakistani military and intelligence services have with certain individuals that we find troubling. And I've said that publicly and I've said it privately to Pakistani officials as well."
With his comments, Obama brought the U.S. view firmly into the public sphere and said out loud what U.S. officials have until now only said privately about the conflicting positions held by Washington and Islamabad with regard to Afghanistan's future.
Obama said Washington must "reorient" Pakistan's view.
"What we've tried to persuade Pakistan of is that it is in their interest to have a stable Afghanistan; that they should not be feeling threatened by a stable, independent Afghanistan. We've tried to get conversations between Afghans and Pakistanis going more effectively than they have been in the past," Obama said.
In that spirit, Obama praised Pakistan as an "effective partner" for its help battling terrorism throughout the region, saying, "We could not have been as successful as we have been without the cooperation of the Pakistan government."
But he also warned that Islamabad must start taking into account what the United States is trying to achieve.
"There's no doubt that we're not going to feel comfortable with a long-term strategic relationship with Pakistan if we don't think that they're mindful of our interests as well," Obama said.
Last month the former top U.S. military commander, now retired Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, told a Senate committee hearing that Pakistan's intelligence service is supporting the Taliban-allied Haqqani network, which has carried out a series of deadly attacks on Western targets in Kabul in recent months. Mullen called the Haqqani network in Afghanistan "a veritable arm of Pakistan's internal services intelligence agency."
The claim sent U.S.-Pakistani relations plummeting and sparked anti-American protests across Pakistan, as well as an emergency meeting of the country's 60-plus political parties to develop a national response.
Relations between the two countries have been souring since last May, when U.S. Special Forces raided the Pakistani compound of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killing him and several others. Islamabad, which was not told about the planned attack in advance, subsequently came under sharp suspicion by U.S. officials that it knew about bin Laden's hiding place and didn't tell Washington.
Islamabad's arrest of a CIA agent accused in the deaths of two Pakistanis and the suspension of $800 million in U.S. military aid deepened the rift.
The U.S.-led coalition currently has more than 130,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 98,000 from the United States.
International forces have begun handing over responsibly for security to Afghan forces and all foreign combat troops are to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014. In July, Obama announced that he would pull 10,000 troops out of Afghanistan this year and 23,000 more by next September.
with agency reports