US officials ratchet up pressure on Pakistan over Taliban militants
On eve of White House summit, Pakistani officials push back against the impression that they're responding to Washington pressure.
The Obama administration appears to have pushed some hot buttons with the government of Pakistan – getting some quick action against the rising threat from the country's extremist forces, but also irritating a leadership anxious to show it is not acting under pressure from anyone.Skip to next paragraph
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That sequence follows a familiar pattern in US-Pakistan relations, experts in the region say: first comes some American action, usually rhetorical, followed by just enough Pakistani action to satisfy Washington.
The difference this time is that Pakistani action follows a shift in US focus: from Pakistan as it affects the war next door in Afghanistan to Pakistan itself and its stability amid an intensifying confrontation with Taliban militants.
"We're seeing this evolution where we are coming to recognize that between these two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Pakistan is ultimately more critical to our national security," says Marvin Weinbaum, a former South Asia specialist with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. "There's a dawning realization that we have a partnership in serious difficulty and a country under serious threat."
Less than a week after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton elevated the rhetoric by telling Congress that the government was "abdicating" before Taliban forces taking control of new pockets of the country, Pakistan has stepped up its military offensive against the Taliban in areas near the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials insist the government is acting in its own interest and not at the behest of any foreign government.
But some comments belie a sensitivity to intensifying American pressures to take on the advancing Taliban.
"Please do not panic," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Monday in response to Secretary Clinton's testimony before a House committee. "We will not surrender, we will not capitulate, and we will not abdicate."
Heightened US concern about Pakistan has surfaced not only in Clinton's comments to Congress but also in a White House meeting President Obama held last Thursday with her and with his special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.
That meeting and subsequent bilateral contacts are seen to be setting the tone for a three-way White House summit Obama will hold next week with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.