Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that the US expects Pakistan to act against militant havens within its borders “over the next days and weeks.” Mrs. Clinton's comments underscore growing US impatience with Pakistan’s reluctance to deal with the potent Haqqani network, which carries out cross-border raids from its territory into Afghanistan.
Speaking at a press conference after holding talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in Islamabad on Friday, Mrs. Clinton also urged Pakistan to play a constructive role in bringing peace to Afghanistan, emphasizing that peace and stability in the region is in both countries’ interests.
Clinton sought to underscore the US and Pakistan’s joint goals in fighting terror, while acknowledging the sacrifices of 30,000 Pakistani civilians who have lost their lives to terrorism since 9/11.
But, she said, it is in Pakistan’s own interest “to squeeze the Haqqani network and other terrorists, because we know that trying to eliminate terrorist safe havens on one side of the border is not going to work. It’s like that old story – you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to bite only your neighbors. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”
She added that in her talks with Pakistani leaders, “We had a very in-depth conversation with specifics. We are looking forward to taking that conversation and operationalizing it over the next days and weeks – not months and years, but days and weeks, because we have a lot of work to do to realize our shared goals.”
Though Ms. Khar did appear to acknowledge that Pakistan could do more, analysts say a major breakthrough is not likely, given that the Pakistan Army does not view attacking the Haqqani network – which, unlike the Pakistani Taliban or Al Qaeda, does not carry out attacks inside Pakistan – as being in its own interest.
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“I don’t think they’ve come to any sort of breakthrough on the Haqqani issue,” says Arif Rafiq, a Washington-based consultant on South Asia and editor of Pakistan Policy. “I think Hina Rabbani Khar was tasked to emphasize the shared interest in Afghanistan. The Haqqani network is the major difference – she avoided it to present this narrative of being on the same page,” he adds, noting that throughout the course of the press briefing, Khar did not mention the Haqqani network by name even once.
Earlier in the week, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani told a parliamentary standing committee he was not convinced that fighting the Haqqani network would solve Pakistan’s problems.
The Pakistani military fears attacking the Haqqani network could destabilize Pakistan while undermining Pakistan's position in the Afghanistan peace talks. General Kayani may also wish to avoid appearing ‘weak’ to its domestic audience by offering too many concessions that are seen to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty.
While Clinton briefly addressed economic assistance to Pakistan, the briefing was more focused on security issues than in Clinton’s previous trips to Pakistan as secretary of State, says Mr. Rafiq, the analyst.
“This actually demonstrates the nature of US-Pak relations has changed. Previously there was ambitious agenda to enlarge the US footprint inside Pakistan. Now military and economic aid is dwindling and the key areas remain security issues,” he says, referring to a recent decision to suspend $800m of military aid and delays in sending civilian aid.
For her part, Khar denied that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies support Afghan insurgents, stating: “It is Pakistan’s interest to have stability in Afghanistan. No country has more to gain than Pakistan and no country has more to lose.”