- Associated Press - Sunday, October 24, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistan’s foreign minister said Sunday that his country will deal with a key Taliban sanctuary along the Afghan border on its own timeline despite increasing U.S. pressure to move swiftly to help turn around the war in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke after returning from Washington for the latest round of high-level strategic talks with the Obama administration. His comments indicated a new $2 billion military aid package offered by the U.S. did little to change Pakistan’s strategic calculus.

“We have our own priorities. We have our own sense of timing,” Mr. Qureshi said when asked by reporters about U.S. pressure to launch an offensive against Taliban militants in the North Waziristan tribal area who regularly attack foreign troops in Afghanistan.

The U.S. believes an operation in North Waziristan is key to success in the Afghan war because the area serves as the main base for the Haqqani Network — a militant group that military officials have said poses the greatest threat to troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has resisted taking action. Analysts say the country is reluctant to target militants it has historical ties with and who could be useful allies in Afghanistan once foreign troops withdraw.

The Haqqani Network is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj. The elder Haqqani was closely allied with Pakistan during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Pakistan has denied that it has links with militants and has said it cannot launch an offensive in North Waziristan until it wraps up operations in other areas of the tribal belt.

“When you do an operation, you have to consolidate your position,” Mr. Qureshi told reporters during a news conference in the city of Lahore. “If you do an operation without consolidating, what will happen is that you leave the place and they [the militants] will fill the gap again.”

The U.S. tried to encourage Pakistan to intensify its fight against extremists during the recent talks, offering a five-year, $2 billion aid package to purchase U.S. arms, ammunition and accessories from 2012 to 2016.

The new aid, which must be approved by Congress, replaces a similar but less valuable package that began in 2005 and expired on Oct. 1. It will complement $7.5 billion in civilian assistance the administration already has committed to Pakistan over five years, some of which has been diverted to help the country deal with devastating floods.