U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is confirming that American officials have reached out to the Haqqani militant network to test its interest in peace talks. Her comments come even as the U.S. is demanding that Pakistan do more to crack down on the network.
Clinton is the first American official to publicly acknowledge the Haqqani outreach, which was reported in August by The Associated Press. Clinton said Friday the meeting was organized by Pakistan’s intelligence service and was considered preliminary - to see if the Haqqanis would show up.
She said the U.S. wanted to work with Afghanistan and Pakistan to develop a sequence for actual negotiations. She gave no other details but stressed that only militants willing to meet conditions would be allowed to reconcile with society.
The United States claims the Haqqanis, based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, are mounting direct assaults on U.S. soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan that justify a stepped-up U.S. military push against them in Afghanistan and more CIA drone strikes to kill clan leaders in Pakistan.
The U.S. has grown increasingly impatient with Pakistan’s refusal to take military action against the Haqqani network and its ambivalence, if not hostility, to supporting Afghan attempts to reconcile Taliban fighters into society.
Clinton warned that that stance is no longer acceptable while American officials warned that if Pakistan continued to balk, the U.S. would act unilaterally to end the militant threat. She also confirmed that the U.S. had tried to directly enlist the Haqqanis in peace efforts.
U.S. officials have accused Pakistan's military spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, of harboring or helping the Haqqanis, which Pakistan’s leaders deny. Clinton pointed to the joint U.S. and Afghan campaign against the militants on the Afghan side of the order and said that Pakistan must do the same. On Thursday, in the Afghan capital, she said those who allow such safe havens to remain would pay “a very big price.”
U.S. officials have not been precise in public about what they are asking Pakistan to do militarily, and many privately acknowledge that any large military operation in the rugged tribal areas is unrealistic. Nor is the powerful Pakistani intelligence service likely to cut ties to the Haqqanis.
Clinton herself alluded to the utility of those ties, saying that the more important U.S. request of Pakistan is that it tries to pressure Taliban militants to reconcile with the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.
She said the military fight against the group must be intensified to persuade members to quit and rejoin society. “We don”t know if this will work, but we believe strongly we must try it,” she said.
“Pakistan has a critical role to play in supporting Afghan reconciliation and ending the conflict,” 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.”
Clinton said the urgency of the situation required that action take place “over the next days and weeks, not months and years,” and she warned that many in Congress are fed up and ready to pull back on the billions in aid the U.S. provides to Pakistan.
The U.S. and Pakistan remain at odds over the proper sequencing for peace talks with the Taliban and their allies, said a Pakistani security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks. Pakistan thinks the U.S. strategy of additional military action will not work, the official said.
Speaking to a group of Pakistani journalists, Clinton said it was unrealistic to think Pakistan's intelligence service did not have connections with insurgents.
“Every intelligence agency has contact with unsavory characters, that is part of the job of being in an intelligence agency,” she said. “What we are saying is let’s use those contacts to try to bring these people to the table to see whether or not they are going to be cooperative.” She noted that it was the Pakistani intelligence services that requested the U.S. meet with the Haqqanis