U.S.-Pakistan talks won't lead to military action against Haqqani

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 21, 2011 

ISLAMABAD — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that she'd won agreement from Pakistan to take some sort of action against the Haqqani insurgent network, but she suggested the action would not be military in nature, leaving unclear what her high-powered delegation accomplished during its two-day visit here.

"We recognize that military action is very difficult. We have discussed other forms of acting," Clinton said during a television appearance here. She listed greater intelligence co-operation between the U.S. and Pakistan and great Pakistani efforts to prevent Haqqani fighters in Pakistan's North Waziristan region from crossing into Afghanistan as some of those "other forms."

Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Islamabad on Thursday after weeks of rising tensions over accusations by the previous Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, that Pakistan had supported Haqqani attacks on U.S. targets inside Afghanistan, including a 20-hour assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul last month.

Before arriving, Clinton had told reporters in Afghanistan that the trio would bring a tough message to Pakistani leaders: Crack down on the Afghan insurgents based on your soil or pay "a very big price."

"We're looking to the Pakistanis to lead on this because there's no place to go any longer. The terrorists are on both sides" of the Afghan-Pakistani border, Clinton said then. "No one should be in any way mistaken about allowing this to continue without paying a very big price."

But her comments here were much less definitive, suggesting she had not won Pakistani agreement for tougher action.

Asked at a "town hall"-style meeting, held with mostly young Pakistanis in a hotel in Islamabad, whether she wanted Pakistan to use its military to crush the Haqqani network or force it to come to the negotiating table, Clinton replied: "It's more the latter."

"We think that Pakistan for a variety of reasons has the capacity to encourage, to push, to squeeze ... terrorists, including the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban, to be willing to engage in the peace process," she said. "So that is what we're looking for."

Pakistani officials have complained for some time that the American approach to the Afghan insurgency is contradictory, that the Pakistanis cannot be expected both to crack down on insurgents who've sought shelter in Pakistan and at the same time persuade them to negotiate.

At a news conference with her Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Clinton said the U.S. delegation had asked "very specifically for greater cooperation from the Pakistan side to squeeze the Haqqani network and other terrorists because we know that trying to eliminate terrorists and safe havens from one side of the border is not going to work."

But Rabbani Khar left no reason to expect a step-up in military activity aimed at the Haqqanis. Citing a recent meeting of Pakistani political leaders, Rabbani Khar said Pakistan had decided "to give peace a chance."

Washington has long believed that the leadership of the insurgency in Afghanistan is based in Pakistan, where it enjoys protection from the country's security establishment, which sees it as a proxy for its interests in Afghanistan. The Haqqani network uses North Waziristan as a safe haven.

Pakistan has said that its soldiers are stretched too thin elsewhere to take action against the Haqqani, while also saying that the country cannot afford to make an enemy of yet another violent group.

Clinton held intensive talks with civilian and military officials, including a long session at the prime minister's house that lasted until about 2 a.m. Friday, attended by army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate spy agency.

Clinton said the two sides agreed on 90 percent to 95 percent of the issues, quoting, she said, an assessment from Kayani.

But she also cautioned against Pakistani policy that sees some jihadist groups, including the Haqqani network, as so-called "good Taliban" who can help the country pursue its foreign policy goals in Afghanistan without risking peace and security inside Pakistan.

"It's like that old story: You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors," she said. "No policy that draws distinctions between good terrorists and bad terrorists can provide long-term security."

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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