Action in days and weeks, demands US

Hillary Clinton and President ZardariISLAMABAD:  Understanding that military action was not the “only solution” to Haqqani Network and other Taliban groups on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the United States on Friday, however, stepped up pressure on Pakistan by clearly saying that action had to be taken within “days and weeks” to eliminate militant safe havens.

“We know the military action is difficult and it’s not just military action. There is greater sharing of intelligence so we can prevent and intercept the efforts by the Haqqanis or the Taliban to try to cross the border or to plan an attack,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters after her extensive meetings with the Pakistani civilian and military leadership. Clinton tried to neutralise the situation when she told a media roundtable in the afternoon that both sides had reached an understanding on “90 to 95 percent” of conflicting issues. However, she was firm in saying that in case the terrorists’ safe havens were not eliminated, it would be equally disastrous for both Pakistan and the US.

APPETITE FOR TALKS: Though she showed her country’s willingness to initiate a dialogue with the Haqqanis and other Taliban groups, she was sceptical about the results as she said it was not yet known whether the other side was ready for talks. Rejecting the reports that the US would opt for a “boots on ground” strategy, she did not however rule out the possibility altogether when she said that in case of any “successful terrorist strike” against US interests, the matter would possibly go even out of the hands of the (US) president.“If there is a successful terrorist strike, say like that on US embassy in Kabul, in which luckily no US officials were killed, but if there is such an attack and the American people are killed then it will be difficult for any American president to control the things getting out of his hands.”

She also suggested that Pakistan could use its influence to engage and bring the Haqqanis and other Taliban groups to the table for talks, which would be a better option than going for military action. Pakistan has so far refused to launch a new military offensive against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan on the grounds that its troops are too overstretched and that the country has already sacrificed too many lives.Secretary Clinton, who had arrived in Islamabad on Thursday, spent a busy Friday locked in negotiations with Pakistani leaders including President Asif Ali Zardari and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. She also had lengthy town hall meetings with members of the civil society, entrepreneurs and students.

t the US embassy, Clinton met some eminent Pakistani politicians from various parties including National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Awami National Party President Asfandyar Wali Khan, Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Dr Farooq Sattar and Baloch nationalist leader Senator Abdul Malik. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director David Petraeus and top US military officer General Martin Dempsey, who were accompanying Secretary Clinton on the unusual high-profile US delegation, also spent Friday in detailed discussions with the top military and intelligence officials, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt General Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

According to an official source, the CIA chief also made a surprise visit to Abbottabad on Friday, where al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert US military aid on May 2. However, the source would not divulge the purpose of Petraeus’s visit to the garrison town. Addressing a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Khar after the delegation-level talks at the Foreign Office, Secretary Clinton said: “We look to Pakistan to take strong steps to deny Afghan insurgents safe havens and to encourage the Taliban to enter negotiations in good faith. With US and Afghan troops pressing a new offensive against the Haqqani network in eastern Afghanistan, we will like Pakistan to up the pressure on militant safe havens on its side of the border.”

GREATER COOPERATION: She said she had asked very specifically for greater cooperation from the Pakistani side to squeeze the Haqqani network and other terrorists as trying to eliminate terrorists and safe havens on one side of the border was not going to work. “It’s like that old story, you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours, eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.” She said that there was no evidence of the ISI’s involvement in attack on the US embassy in Kabul. “Not that I am aware of,” she said. Nonetheless, she admitted the United States held one exploratory meeting with the Haqqani network. “In fact, the Pakistani government officials helped to facilitate such a meeting.”

NO CONTRADICTION: She also said her country does not “see any contradiction between fighting and talking”. “We want more coordination between the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan for what must be, with respect to the conflict, an Afghan-led effort for reconciliation,” she added.

Foreign Minister Khar said: “Do safe havens exist? Yes, they do exist on both sides. Do we need to cooperate? Yes. We can cooperate more and achieve better results.” She, however, denied US accusations that elements within Pakistan’s intelligence services supported Afghan insurgents. “There is no question of any support by any Pakistani institutions to safe havens. Let me be very clear and unequivocal on that,” she said.

During her interaction with the Pakistani civil society members here later, Clinton said no policy based on differentiating between good and bad extremists could bring about peace and US and Pakistan should work together to eliminate all extremists, including the Haqqani network.She told participants of a town hall meeting that the US respected interests of Pakistan as every nation had to follow its own interests. “I believe the United States and Pakistan can work together to root out all of the extremists that threaten both of us, including the Haqqani Network. And it is no secret that our relationship today has challenges, but for all the reasons I have mentioned, I would argue that our two nations have far more powerful common interests in improving our cooperation.

And now we have to chart that pathway forward together,” said Clinton. Responding to a question about talks with the Taliban, she said it would have to be ascertained whether the extremists also had an appetite for talks and whether they were willing to renounce violence and cut ties with al Qaeda and abide by the rules and laws of the land. “We have been exploring whether there is willingness for peace… Burhanuddin Rabbani was murdered in his quest for peace. Those who are invited for talks need to come with sincerity and willingness. But we have to evaluate whether there is any willingness for the peace process,” she said, adding that the US was well aware of the challenges and sacrifices by the people and armed forces of Pakistan in their fight against militancy.

“We want Pakistan to be a full partner in the tripartite mission for peace to Afghanistan. For the purpose, Pakistan would have to, in terms of General Kayani, build pressure, push and squeeze the terrorists to the talks table for bringing peace to Afghanistan and region,” she said. Asked about the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan, Clinton said there was no Blackwater as it had been disbanded while some of its contractors had joined other organisations including Xe, which is a group of private contractors. However, she said like other parts of the world, the US also hired private contractors to provide security to its diplomats.

“I cannot confirm for security reasons that they (Xe personnel) are not in Pakistan. But private contractors are hired so that diplomats are protected. We cannot tell who is being provided security by private contractors,” she asserted.On financial support to the social sector in Pakistan by the US, the top US diplomat said her country had supported Pakistan’s civil society but she felt that there was a need to do more. “Pakistan’s culture and civil society is vibrant and with the dynamic free press, there is a lot of potential. But I am worried that intimidating factors, including militancy, would hinder this growth. Rather, the people should be allowed to speak their minds. If your space shrinks, it is the society that suffers,” she said, adding that the US would continue its support for civil society in Pakistan.

Asked whether there were contradictions in the US policy of the ‘three Ds’ (deterrence, dialogue and development), Hillary admitted that much of the US policy seemed contradictory.“This seems contradictory while talking and fighting simultaneously. It may appear contradictory but we are living in a complex world and it has to be this way. So it may not be an easy concept but it is reality,” she added.“We are in talks, in the talks stage for the reversal of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. We want to talk but we are not sure that there is willingness or appetite on the other side (Taliban). But we have to test their commitment now,” she said.

Asked why drone attacks continued inside Pakistan despite a huge number of civilian casualties, Hillary did not agree to the notion and said that only safe havens of terrorists were targeted to protect the interests of Pakistan, US and Afghan forces.“One has to understand that terrorists are embedded in civilian areas which are safe havens for them. There has been a lot of focus on doing what is necessary to protect Pakistan and to protect Afghanistan and to protect Americans, which is important for both of our countries. I think that the difficulties that we face with the safe havens that I have referenced is that very often they are embedded in areas where people are going about their daily business.

We try to make sure that, when working with the Pakistani military intelligence services, any person who has committed a terrorist act or who is about to commit a terrorist act can be intercepted and there are many ways of doing that. Drones are not an issue hurting Pakistan-US relations,” she observed.MEDIA PROBLEMS: When a questioner pointed out that there was a lot of talk about rising anti-Americanism in Pakistan but Pakistan-bashing was being projected in the US, Clinton agreed and said that there were problems on both sides. “There have been press articles on both sides that have been wildly inaccurate and wildly accusatory to the detriment of the seriousness of what we are trying to do together and I think – look we both have democracies, we both have people who are politicians, who run for office, who are responsive to public opinion.

If the press and others are creating a public opinion attitude, then we are going to have politicians responding to it and then we are into a vicious cycle,” she said, adding that when she took office, she was informed by the US embassy in Pakistan that every day negative stories full of accusations were projected in the media and it was hard to respond to each and every news. However, she said she directed the embassy to respond possibly to every such news being projected in Pakistan. “We also have the same problem in the US media which carries accusations against Pakistan,” she added.Responding to the delay in establishment of reconstruction opportunity zones (RoZs) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Clinton admitted that there may be resistance from the US Congress.

About relaxation of conditions for Pakistani textiles exports to the US markets, she said that employment opportunities could help resolve multiple issues but the rules were not Pakistan-specific and rather the same was the case for many countries. Asked whether the US recognised the All-Parties Conference (APC) resolution which pressed the US and Pakistan governments to start a dialogue with militant groups in order to give peace a chance, Clinton smartly twisted the phrase in her favour, telling the audience that the US was also pursuing the same objective.“We are encouraging the terrorists to give peace a chance. I hope this message is heard by terrorists on both sides of the border,” she stated.When asked whether there was any headway on the strategic dialogue, the US secretary of state said that both countries agreed to work out a plan to revive the strategic dialogue.

“We have asked both teams to put up plan on a fast track,” she said.She said a commitment to the security of Afghanistan was to be guaranteed by all its neighbours. Terming the Silk Road a basis of regional development, Hillary said the road network would do wonders for fulfillment of energy needs of the regional players, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, etc. She said Pakistan was located strategically and there was a need to use this potential for its advantages. She said granting Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India would help Pakistan’s cause a lot. Acknowledging the sacrifice and contribution of Pakistan in the war against terror, Clinton said Pakistan had paid a huge price after 9/11 in terms of economics, people and army.

“Our plan-A is to overcome the trust deficit between Pakistan and the US and try to make progress together. Yes, there is frustration on both sides but we cannot give up,” she said. When asked why the US administration was handing millions of dollars to a corrupt and inept government in Pakistan without advising the rulers to put their house in order, Clinton smartly avoided any direct comment on the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led coalition government’s performance. However, she said that the US had been advising the government to address the energy issue as its number one priority.

Clinton said the US would help add 1,000 megawatts of electricity to the Pakistani grid through American entrepreneurs and they had been helping through consultations for the past two-and-a-half years. She pointed out that in a country where only 2 million out of the total 180 million people paid income tax, it would be difficult to generate resources for development.“However, we recognise that the people of Pakistan have the right to press their government to take hard decisions whom they have voted into power. We think hard decisions are to be taken. You have to deal with the issue if only 12 percent people pay taxes out of 180 million people.

You must fix these problems. We don’t have a seat in Pakistan. We cannot advise your government,” she said, adding that she may advise her own government which had its own problems. Clinton said she had tried to be a good and honest friend to Pakistan. “I will be standing in Congress next week where I am expected to face hard questions about Pakistan. But I would try to be a strong voice for Pakistan,” she said. – PT