Holbrooke: Pakistan relaitons 'are better'

Jan. 14, 2010 at 11:54 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, who was visiting Pakistan during the latest drone strike, praised the strategic relationship between the two countries.

The drone strike in the North-South Waziristan tribal regions Thursday killed 10 militants, with some reports saying Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud may have been among the dead. A Taliban spokesman denied Mehsud was killed in the attack.

Speaking to Western journalists Thursday, Holbrooke said the U.S.-Pakistan strategic relationship is "a lot better than it was a year ago" while agreeing tensions remained, The Washington Post reported. His comments came as Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, speaking in Parliament, called the drone strikes a threat to Pakistani sovereignty that could "undermine the war on terror."

The Pakistani military has been waging a counterinsurgency against the Taliban, al-Qaida and other terror groups since October in the South Waziristan tribal region. However, the United States wants Pakistan to expand the campaign to North Waziristan, where the terror groups' leadership is suspected to be holed up.

Holbrooke, who visited the Swat Valley cleared of Taliban militants by the Pakistani military, praised the army's success. He said Washington regards Pakistani complaints about the drone attacks "with great seriousness," although Pakistani army and intelligence officials are said to support the drone attacks privately.

If Mehsud is confirmed dead, Pakistani security analyst Imtiaz Gul told the Post: "It should be considered a blessing in disguise. Pakistan has little to criticize."

Analyst Inam Wazir told the Voice of America Mehsud's death would not make much difference as there are numerous others to take his place.

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