Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan on Thursday is being seen as a major push to smooth relations and urge Pakistan to be a constructive partner in Afghan peace talks in one of the worst periods for US-Pakistan ties since 9/11.
She is set to meet Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zaradri, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani, and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to discuss Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace talks, and will be joined by CIA chief David Petraeus and top US military officer Martin Dempsey.
Speaking from Kabul on Wednesday prior to her visit, Clinton urged Pakistan to “be part of the solution,” adding: “That means ridding their own country of terrorists who kill their own people and who cross the border to kill people in Afghanistan.”
But if the US delegation urges Pakistan to carry out targeted military operations, it is likely to be met with a frosty response, underscoring the widely divergent goals for dealing with militants.
“What the Pakistanis will tell them is, ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree: Stop calling for Pakistanis to do more and more, because we’re not going to do anything of the sort,’ ” says Rifaat Husain, a defense analyst and professor at Islamabad’s Qauid-e-Azam University.
Underlying the visit is broad disagreement on dealing with the Haqqani Network – a militant organization that takes shelter in the Pakistani Tribal area of North Waziristan and routinely attacks US interests in neighboring Afghanistan. The US blames the group, which it regards as its most potent enemy, for a siege at the US Embassy in Kabul and a truck bombing at a NATO post that wounded 77 Americans in September.
On Tuesday, General Kayani told a parliamentary standing committee he was not convinced that fighting the Haqqani network, which, unlike the Pakistani Taliban or Al Qaeda, does not carry out attacks inside Pakistan, would solve Pakistan’s problems.
The Pakistani military fears attacking the Haqqani network could destabilize Pakistan whilst weakening Pakistan’s strength in the Afghanistan peace talks.
“If somebody convinces me that military action in North Waziristan will resolve all the problems, I am ready to go for it tomorrow,” he added, according to lawmakers present at the meeting.
In a further sign of how tense the Pakistani military has gotten about this issue, General Kayani warned that the US would need to think “10 times” before attempting a unilateral strike inside Pakistan.
Still, the high-powered US delegation, comprising as it does both civilian and military representatives, will send a positive message to the Pakistani government that the US is committed to “preventing a free-fall” in relations, adds Dr. Hussain.
“There is an effort being made at both ends – both US and Pakistan want to see if they can close this gap at this stage,” says retired Gen. Talat Masood, a defense analyst.
“There is a huge divergence in terms of policy and threat perception. I wouldn’t see that there would be a breakthrough but there would be a very major attempt but you cannot bring back the confidence level.”
In the long run, adds Masood, Pakistan has a greater interest in normalizing ties with the US than the US has with Pakistan, as Pakistan risks isolating itself internationally without US support.