Foreign Minister(R) looks on as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a joint press conference in Islamabad on October 21, 2011.—AP Photo
ISLAMABAD: In a rather bitter-sweet message, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Islamabad on Friday to start dismantling militant safe havens along the Afghan border within “days and weeks”, but said the United States respected Pakistan’s sovereignty and would not undertake any unilateral action against terrorists on its soil.
During an extensive interaction with media personnel and members of civil society, she urged Pakistan to do more to nudge and push the Taliban towards the negotiating table. Pakistan-US ties were important and they needed each other, she added.
According to news agencies, Ms Clinton admitted that the United States had held one exploratory meeting with the Haqqani network which, an official said, had taken place before a series of recent attacks on US interests in Kabul.
“In fact, the Pakistani government officials helped to facilitate such a meeting,” she told a roundtable with TV journalists.
Answering a question about allegations by the outgoing American military chief that a Pakistani intelligence agency was involved in attacks on the US embassy in Kabul through militants of the Haqqani network, she categorically said: “We have no evidence of that.”
Addressing a joint press conference with Ms Clinton after a meeting, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said militant safe havens existed on both sides of the Afghan border. Pakistan, she said, was committed to eliminating terrorism and encouraging the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
Ms Clinton urged Pakistan to play the role of a peacemaker in Afghanistan by encouraging the Taliban to enter into negotiations in good faith. “We think that Pakistan for a variety of reasons has the capacity to encourage, to push, to squeeze … terrorists, including the Haqqanis and Afghan Taliban, to be willing to engage in the peace process,” she said.
Ms Clinton also asked Pakistan to take decisive action against militants on its side of the border and deny safe havens to the terrorists on its soil. She said the US and coalition forces were squeezing terrorists on the Afghan side to prevent attacks in Pakistan and Pakistan should do that in its territory. But she said her country wanted action against militants “over the next days and weeks, not months and years”.
She said it was in the interest of Pakistan where thousands of people had died in militant violence in recent years. “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours.”
Ms Clinton said Pakistan had specifically been asked to extend greater cooperation to squeeze the Haqqani network and other terrorists, adding that trying to eliminate terrorists and safe havens on one side of the border was not going to work.
Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has ruled out an immediate military offensive in North Waziristan, saying it will not be done under pressure.
At a recent briefing to members of parliamentary committees, he also ruled out the possibility of an immediate unilateral
attack by the US in the tribal region and said it would have to think ten times before doing so. Pakistan was not Afghanistan or Iraq, but a nuclear power, he added.
Ms Clinton agreed with Gen Kayani that Pakistan was not Afghanistan or Iraq and said the US respected Pakistan’s sovereignty and understood its security concerns.
She made it clear that the US was not asking Pakistan to sacrifice its own security, but said Pakistan had a critical role to play
in Afghan reconciliation and in ending the conflict.
Ms Clinton acknowledged that there were issues on which Pakistan and theUS did not always see eye to eye and these differences could not be resolved in a single visit. “Stability of Pakistan and the region directly impacts the security of the US and it is in our interest to help the Afghan people build a stable, sovereign and independent nation that is not a source of trouble for its neighbours.”
The secretary of state said her country was committed to economic development of Pakistan and supported the idea of a new Silk Route which would increase regional economic integration and boost cross-border trade and investment between Pakistan and its neighbours. It will also translate into more jobs and economic opportunities for Pakistani people and their neighbours.
She said the US welcomed the progress Pakistan and India were making towards normalcy. She said the US would continue to support Pakistan’s elected government and its people in addressing economic challenges.
Ms Clinton said Washington welcomed the message delivered by the all party conference for giving peace a chance.
About the peace talks with those renouncing violence, she said: “We should get into the peace process, but if that fails then steps need to be taken to prevent them from killing innocent people.”
Hina Rabbani Khar said Pakistan’s relations with other countries were based on national interest and the relationship between Pakistan and the US was no exception.
She reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism and said it was doing it in its own interest. She said it was in Pakistan’s national interest to have a strong and prosperous Afghanistan. There was no country in the world that was more affected by events in Afghanistan than Pakistan.
The foreign minister said the government would evolve its future strategy in the light of the APC resolution. “We can work together towards peace and prosperity in the region,” she said.
“There are safe havens on both the sides of the border, but we can cooperate more to achieve better results,” she said, adding that there was no question of any Pakistani support for safe havens.
Agencies add: A US official said Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had arranged the meeting with representatives of the Haqqani network, which took place “in the summer”, before two symbolic anti-American attacks in Afghanistan.
Ms Clinton said that “we do not see any contradiction” between fighting and talking. “And we want more coordination between the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan for what must be, with respect to the conflict, an Afghan-led effort,” the chief US diplomat said.
When asked if the US was considering sending its troops inside Pakistan, she categorically said this option was not being considered. “We don’t want to take action unilaterally; we want to act in concert with our strategic partners like Pakistan and other allies.”
Answering a question about her reported warning to Islamabad, Ms Clinton said the warning was: “If we don’t handle safe havens together the consequences could be terrific to both the US and Pakistan.”
About the action against the militants, she said: “Action has to take different forms; it is not only the military action.”
Ms Clinton also met President Asif Ali Zardari. She reiterated the US administration’s desire for long-term partnership with Pakistan.
President Zardari underscored the importance of increased consultations between the two countries on the basis of mutual respect, sovereignty and interests.
He said Pakistan supported all efforts for regional peace, prosperity and connectivity based on the existing realities of the region. The president said Pakistan and Afghanistan shared many issues of similar nature, thus making Pakistan affected directly by any development across the border. He said Pakistan supported Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process.