Clinton presses Pakistan to broker talks with Afghan insurgents


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REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Faced with repeated refusals from Pakistan to uproot the deadly Afghan Taliban affiliate known as the Haqqani network from its territory, Washington is pushing the South Asian nation to force the insurgent group’s leaders to join peace talks in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested Friday.

While the U.S. would still welcome a Pakistan army-led military operation against Haqqani militants in the country’s lawless tribal areas, remarks made by Clinton at a town hall meeting in Islamabad suggested that Washington had narrowed its expectations.


Asked by a Pakistani journalist whether the U.S. expected Pakistan to attack the Haqqani network or force the militants to negotiate, Clinton answered, “It’s more the latter.”

Explaining that the U.S. was cognizant of the Pakistani army’s efforts in battling militants in other tribal regions and of the troop losses it has suffered, Clinton said Washington wants Pakistan “to be a full partner” in resolving the 10-year conflict in Afghanistan through negotiations with insurgents.

“We think for a variety of reasons that Pakistan has the capacity to encourage, to push, to squeeze ... terrorists including the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban ... to engage in the Afghan peace process. So that is what we are looking for.”

Clinton’s remarks appeared to signal a pragmatic recognition of Pakistan’s long-standing resistance to military action against the Haqqani network in north Waziristan, the tribal region along the Afghan border that Washington has said is used by the militants as a springboard for attacks on U.S., NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has repeatedly argued that it cannot launch a military assault on Haqqani militants because thousands of its troops are already deployed against the country’s homegrown insurgency, the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups entrenched in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.

However, experts in Washington and Pakistan believe that the military hesitates to attack Haqqani militants because the country’s intelligence community has strong ties to the insurgent group, and because it sees the group as a valuable asset in Afghanistan once the U.S. withdraws its troops from the war-torn country in 2014.

U.S. allegations of Pakistan’s active backing of Haqqani militants crystallized in blunt accusations made by Adm. Michael G. Mullen earlier this fall, just before he stepped down as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen called the Haqqani network “a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, and alleged ISI involvement in Haqqani attacks in September on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and an American base in Wardak province. The latter assault wounded 77 U.S. soldiers.

At a joint news conference with Clinton, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar rejected claims that any element of the Pakistani government supported the Haqqani network or allowed the group to maintain safe havens within north Waziristan.

At the same time, Khar endorsed the idea of Pakistan playing a strong role in Afghan-led peace talks with the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, adding that the challenge now is to “operationalize that process.”

“Pakistan has worked on this and is ready to support a reconciliation process that is good for the Afghan people,” Khar said. “We are committed to this process and willing to do whatever we can to make it a success.”


Clinton arrives in Pakistan to discuss Afghanistan’s future

U.S. delivers blunt message to Pakistan on Haqqani network

Pakistan warns that U.S. accusations may cost Washington an ally

-- Alex Rodriguez