ISLAMABAD — The United States pressed a hard case with a difficult ally during an extraordinary two-day diplomatic offensive in Pakistan, arguing on one hand that Pakistan should send its army after militants the U.S. says get special protection from the Pakistani government and on the other that Pakistan should use its influence with Taliban militants to encourage peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is unlikely to do either to U.S. satisfaction, leaving a critical counterterrorism partnership on uncertain terms.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged Friday that U.S.-Pakistani ties are now badly strained. The U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May is one reason. The death of two Pakistanis at the hands of a CIA contractor is another.
"Our relationship of late has not been an easy one," Clinton said at the close of meetings centered on U.S. demands for more cooperation. "We have seen distrust harden into resentment and public recrimination. We have seen common interests give way to mutual suspicion. We have seen common interests give way to mutual suspicion."
Leading an unusually large and powerful U.S. delegation, including CIA Director David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, Clinton met for four hours of talks with Pakistani officials late Thursday. On Friday, Clinton met alone with Pakistani President President Asif Ali Zardari and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who used a joint news conference to deny that Pakistan shelters or supports a particularly lethal wing of the Taliban, an issue at the heart of the talks with the Americans.
"There is no question of any support by any Pakistani institution to safe havens in Pakistan," for militants of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, Khar said.
Kahr insisted that Pakistan and the U.S. shared the same goal.
"Pakistan takes the threat of terrorism seriously," she said, noting that thousands of Pakistanis had been killed by extremists over the past decade. "We are committed to this process, we would be willing to do whatever we can to be able to make this a success."
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.
Clinton is the first U.S. official to publicly acknowledge the outreach, which was first reported by The Associated Press in August. She said the meeting was organized by Pakistan's intelligence service and was preliminary "to see if (the Haqqanis) would show up."
The U.S. is asking for more Pakistani pressure on the Haqqanis, which the U.S. military considers the biggest threat to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. That's a tough sell for two reasons: Pakistan's army is already stretched thin by other counterterrorism operations the country's leaders consider a higher priority, and many in Pakistan view groups such as the Haqqanis as disaffected brethren, not enemies. By wide margins, Pakistanis also oppose any U.S. intervention in their country, including the clandestine drone campaign.
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