The U.S. is looking for Pakistani action in “the next days and weeks” against Islamic extremists who are killing Americans and destabilizing neighboring Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
Pakistan has permitted terrorists to operate from its territory “for too long,” Clinton said yesterday in Islamabad, where she led a high-level American delegation in talks with Pakistani leaders. Pakistan must act to eliminate violent extremists or risk diminishing support from the U.S. and further instability at home, she said.
There was no public evidence of a breakthrough. Pakistani officials pressed for time to pursue peace talks while Clinton said it was in Pakistan’s interest to move against the militants.
“You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors,” she said after two days of talks. “Eventually, those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”
The Obama administration has gone public with criticism of Pakistan’s intelligence service and Army for ties to the Haqqani faction of the Taliban blamed for the worst attacks on the U.S. in Afghanistan. Clinton has said recent attacks, such as one against the American Embassy in Kabul, are exhausting American patience with Pakistan.
The importance of the talks was demonstrated by the officials who accompanied Clinton, including Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.
Clinton delivered a message that Pakistan must show results from cracking down on militant sanctuaries or risk further pressure from Congress to cut off billions of dollars in aid and to mount U.S. attacks against militants’ sanctuaries in Pakistan.
Clinton said Pakistani and U.S. officials “had a very in-depth conversation with specifics” on how to improve counter-terrorism efforts and plans to put those into action in “the next days and weeks -- not months and years.”
During a meeting with Pakistani journalists, Clinton disclosed for the first time that the U.S., at Pakistan’s request, secretly met Haqqani representatives.
“We have reached out to the Taliban, we have reached out to the Haqqani network, to test their willingness and their sincerity,” she said.
A couple months after the Haqqani meeting, the group launched a 19-hour assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul Sept. 13.
Clinton’s visit came as the U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan continued “enhanced operations” against the Haqqanis along the border with Pakistan.
U.S. and Afghan troops have stepped up searches for the guerrillas in Khost province, which abuts the Pakistani district of North Waziristan where the Haqqani network maintains its headquarters.
The U.S. is continuing the offensive and is pressing Pakistan to “squeeze” them by attacking rear bases in Pakistan, Clinton said at a press conference with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
In meetings that included Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the Pakistanis insisted they don’t support militants and that the country wants to seek peace talks before expanding army offensives.
There is no “support for any safe heaven inside Pakistan,” Khar told reporters, stressing that Pakistan has suffered from terrorism more than almost any country since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
Terror attacks in the South Asian nation have killed at least 35,000 people since 2006, and economic growth last year plunged to one of the lowest rates in the past decade, according to official figures.
As for “any future strategy,” Khar told reporters, the government “will be guided by” the All-Party Conference resolution calling for a domestic dialogue to disarm homegrown militants. Pakistan’s top politicians, including Gilani, last month endorsed that strategy.
Gilani urged Clinton “to give peace a chance” before insisting on more military action. The meeting’s atmosphere was “cordial and frank,” according to a statement from his office.
Clinton acknowledged in the journalists’ roundtable that “some of our Pakistani counterparts are concerned” that military action is “not an effective way to proceed, that somehow there should be an effort to negotiate a cease-fire first.”
While the U.S. is open to peace talks, “we don’t know whether this will work, but we believe strongly that we must try it,” she said. She said the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan are working together to see how reconciliation with extremists might be possible.
That doesn’t mean U.S. forces will stop hunting the militants. To force them to negotiate, she said, “we have to be fighting” to weaken them.
The U.S. talks in Pakistan follow a year of heightened tensions in U.S.-Pakistani relations, which spiked after the clandestine U.S. commando raid into Pakistan that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May. Pakistani officials have said publicly they worry that the U.S. might try a bigger military assault to attack the Haqqani network’s bases.
Ties to Militants
Last month, Dempsey’s predecessor as U.S. military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, drew criticism from Pakistani officials after he said the Haqqani faction of the Taliban acts as a “veritable arm” of the ISI, Pakistan’s main spy agency, and is fighting a “proxy war” in Afghanistan. Clinton has gone further, saying the army, Pakistan’s most powerful institution, also has ties to the militants.
In June, President Barack Obama announced that the first 10,000 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of this year. U.S. and NATO troops plan to end major combat operations there by the end of 2014, and a successful drawdown depends on cooperation with Pakistan to eliminate militants who will try to fill any void.
Talat Masood, a retired army lieutenant general and security analyst in Islamabad, said in an interview yesterday that the Pakistanis told the U.S. side, “You want us to undertake a military action against the Haqqanis, but we will only do that once we feel that the peace process doesn’t work.”
“I think the U.S. has pushed the ball in the Pakistani court by ceding to its demand that we should give peace a chance,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political analyst. “Now the biggest question is whether Pakistan will be able to produce something meaningful that will bring Haqqanis, Taliban and Americans to sit and talk.”
At a town hall-style forum, a woman from a chamber of commerce in the war-torn northwest border region said that Pakistan feels unfairly maligned by the U.S.
The U.S. is like “a mother-in-law” who is never satisfied, the woman said, prompting laughter throughout the hall, including from Clinton. “We are trying to please you, and every time you come and visit us, you have a new idea, so you tell us, ‘You’re not doing enough and you need to work harder.’”
“Now that I am a mother-in-law, I totally understand what you’re saying,” Clinton responded, insisting that both sides are working hard to overcome a “trust deficit” and listen to one another. “Perhaps mother-in-laws can learn new ways also.”