Why can't Pakistan clear its terrorist safe havens? Envoy explains. (video)

The US and Pakistan are stuck in an unsatisfactory arrangement where neither side gets what it wants, the envoy says: no Pakistani crackdown on North Waziristan, and ongoing US drone strikes. 

By , Staff writer

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    Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
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Pakistan, following its own national security interests, will resist US pressure to launch a military campaign against terrorist groups in its North Waziristan region that target US forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

And in the absence of a full-scale Pakistani assault, the US will continue to target militants in North Waziristan with drone strikes – as it did this week, killing at least seven suspected terrorists.

The result of this arrangement between Pakistan and the United States, which doesn’t fully satisfy either side, is that tensions between two partners that have soared to new heights this year are likely to continue.

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That scenario, as unsatisfactory as it may be to both Pakistan and the US, looks to be around for a while, based on an assessment of US-Pakistani relations by Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani.

“I think both sides understand the other’s positions,” Pakistan’s chief diplomat in Washington said as he fielded journalists’ questions at a Monitor breakfast Wednesday. “We are moving ahead in ways that American lives won’t be put at risk in Afghanistan, and that ensure Pakistan is able to maintain its interests.”

But Ambassador Haqqani also reiterated Pakistan’s insistence that the military, which officials say is stretched thin fighting militants elsewhere, won’t launch the kind of assault in North Waziristan that it has in South Waziristan and in the Swat Valley

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a surprise trip to Islamabad last month, during which she laid out a “time to get with the program” message on the need for Pakistan to take on the militant groups it has harbored and in some cases nurtured.

A focus of that message was the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan, a group involved in attacks on US forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

But Haqqani said Wednesday that US officials now understand better Pakistan’s internal constraints in confronting some groups. He listed two red lines that Pakistan has laid down with the US concerning what it will and won’t do in the battle with terrorism: Pakistan won’t act in ways that involve “taking risks with our own internal cohesion,” he said, or that would pose “risks to our own national security.”

The down side of that approach for Pakistan is that it virtually guarantees that the strikes by unmanned US drones will continue and even increase. Suspected US drones struck just before midnight Tuesday in South Waziristan, killing 16 suspected militants, Pakistani intelligence officials were quoted as saying Wednesday.

Haqqani repeated Pakistan’s public position that the drone strikes are a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, and that they contribute to America’s poor image in the country – a problem he said actually boosts militants’ recruiting efforts.

“We have always let be known our opposition to the American strikes,” he said, adding that the issue is also not one that “we want to bring into open debate.” But he noted that even American officials have questioned the use of drones to hit suspected militants, wondering if over the longer term “we are creating more rather than less bad guys.”

Pakistan has continued to receive billions of dollars a year in American military and civilian development assistance despite a perception in the US that Pakistan is working against US interests. That sentiment has led a number of US officials and others – most recently several Republican presidential candidates – to question the wisdom of continuing the aid.

Haqqani said the US needs to consider that the aid it offers Pakistan works in America’s interest. “From your country’s perspective, [aid] makes sense,” he said, noting specifically that high-profile efforts like recent assistance to earthquake and flood victims in Pakistan “win hearts and minds.”

But he also acknowledged that the effort to improve America’s image has a long way to go, noting that a recent Pew Research Center survey found a meager 12 percent of Pakistanis have a positive view of the US. The dislike appears to be mutual: Haqqani noted that another recent survey from Rasmussen found that 40 percent of Americans consider Pakistan to be America’s “enemy.”

In any case, Haqqani said that Pakistan, while it appreciates the aid it receives, is more interested in building a relationship with the US based on trade and mutual strategic interests – something closer, in other words, to what the US is developing with Pakistan’s regional rival, India.

That may be the goal, but even given the somewhat-varnished tableau Haqqani painted of US-Pakistan relations, the two uneasy partners seem unlikely to get there any time soon.

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