The United States appears to be losing its patience with what many in Washington view as Pakistan’s ‘double game’ on Afghanistan.
A three-and-a-half hour meeting between Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was reportedly dominated by discussions over the Haqqani network, with the US insisting that Pakistan take action against the group of militants that operates on both sides of the Durand Line.
Clinton and Khar met in New York ahead of the United Nations General Assembly session. US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani were also present.
The attack on the US embassy in Kabul appears to have been the impetus for the shift in tone from Washington. US officials said that the Kabul attack changed “the nature of the meeting.” A senior US State Department official said that the Haqqani network was the first and last thing that was discussed in the meeting.
A statement released by the Foreign Office in Islamabad described the meeting as being characterised by ‘candour’, though it made no mention of the Haqqani network or even any specific terrorist attack, though it spoke of both sides’ need to cooperate in the war on terror.
While no commitment was given by the Pakistani side, a senior US State Department official said that the Pakistani delegation understood Washington’s concerns.
However, senior Pakistani officials said that the foreign minister said Pakistan strongly condemned the Kabul attacks, reiterating that Pakistan too was a victim of terrorism.
A senior Pakistani official, when pressed on the Haqqani network, did not answer the question directly. However he mentioned that there were also attacks on Pakistan that were being carried out by insurgents based across the border, in Afghanistan.
The meeting comes at a time when relations between Pakistan and the United States have been strained again after the attack in Kabul last week near the US embassy and NATO headquarters.
Khar also raised the subject of anti-American sentiment in the country, and according to senior US State Department officials, said that people in Pakistan believe that the United States does not do anything for them, apparently reinforcing Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s decision to use the US’ own refrain of ‘do more’ in talks with Washington.
US officials said that while they needed to work on the United States’ image in Pakistan, they reminded the Pakistani delegation of initiatives that they had taken for the Pakistani people – including their assistance during last year’s epic floods.
Other topics that were reportedly discussed in the meeting included the Istanbul and Bonn conferences, Afghanistan reconciliation process and the role of Pakistan and the US in what the officials said should be an Afghan-led initiative. Khar will be addressing the UN General Assembly session later this week.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2011.