On a surprise visit to Islamabad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Pakistani leaders that the US is committed to working with Pakistan, but that the country must take “decisive steps” against Islamic militants within its borders.
The popular support for cooperation in both countries tanked after the US launched a raid that killed Mr. bin Laden without informing Pakistan. But today’s visit demonstrates that there remains appetite among the leaders of both nations to salvage the partnership.
Each side made small conciliatory gestures. Clinton said there was no evidence that Pakistan’s senior leaders knew that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, close to a military academy. Pakistan recently returned pieces of a secret stealth helicopter that crashed during the Abbottabad raid and agreed to give the CIA access to bin Laden’s compound.
For months, however, the US and the Pakistani military have been in a standoff. The US wants Pakistan to turn against the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate with Al Qaeda ties responsible for attacks in eastern Afghanistan. The Pakistani military has refused to tackle the group and instead argued for their inclusion in the nascent peace process – a nonstarter for the US.
Recent events have left the US in a stronger position to push Pakistan’s military, which is facing unprecedented scrutiny at home. Pakistan media is questioning the effectiveness of the security establishment after the US raid and a series of major militant attacks, including a 17-hour siege of a Karachi naval base.
In these talks, “Pakistan is on the back foot decidedly,” says Mosharraf Zaidi, a newspaper columnist based in Islamabad. “The level of criticism that the military and the state is taking is unprecedented.”
The weak civilian government in Pakistan has more often seen eye-to-eye with the US on objectives in the region. But the military has stymied cooperation against certain militants that it views as useful for the country’s security objectives in Afghanistan and against India.
Increasingly, however, Pakistanis doubt that the security establishment has the capability of controlling militants.
The civilian government may have more space now to push the military to clean up militant groups – but only if the demands are seen as popular demands, not American ones, cautions Pakistani analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.
“This is what the people of Pakistan are asking for – we are asking our military to do more,” he says. “The government has more space to be talking and taking public positions [now] but I think the US should let the government take its own course.”
He criticizes Clinton for meeting today with Pakistan’s military and intelligence chiefs, rather than sticking to meetings with civilian leaders like Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. The top US military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, accompanied Clinton.