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.
After years of demanding Pakistan crack down on militants in a lawless tribal area on its border with Afghanistan, the United States has now set out a possibly tougher challenge -- bring those militants to the peace table.
It's a hard task. Ties have been stressed between the two allies for months since Osama bin Laden was found holed up in a town two hours from Islamabad.
In addition, there are doubts the Pakistanis can, or will, persuade the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network to take part in the growing peace process to end the Afghan war, given Pakistan's ties to the militants and its competing interests in the region.
On a two-day visit to Islamabad last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Pakistan's relationship with the Haqqanis akin to keeping "snakes in your backyard."
She demanded that Pakistan deny the group any safe haven in the border zone. The network is one of the most effective factions of the Afghan Taliban-led insurgency and was blamed for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul last month,
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.
But talking with militant groups has been a long-standing effort by the United States as it prepares to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and Clinton herself said there had been U.S. overtures to the Haqqanis. Now she wants Pakistan's help.
"We think that Pakistan, for a variety of reasons, has the capacity to encourage, to push, to squeeze ... terrorists, including the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban, to be willing to engage on the peace process," she said during her visit.
Clinton's comments seemed to be well-received by a Pakistan public weary of war and increasingly persuaded the U.S.-led global fight against militancy is not its battle.
"They have recognized the principle of talking to the Taliban. It's almost a natural thing to talk to the others," said Ayesha Siddiqa, a noted defense analyst. "And secondly, what are the options?"
Across Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO forces have been unable to deal a decisive blow to Taliban insurgents and their allies like the Haqqanis, blamed for a series of bold attacks on American targets. More than 2,700 NATO troops have been killed since 2001, as well as more than 11,000 civilians. Many thousands more have been wounded.
Difficult challenges face foreign troops in the east, along with an uncertain ally across the border in Pakistan.
NATO is seeking to weaken a host of insurgents, who in eastern Afghanistan also include the extremist groups, and push them towards embryonic peace talks with the Afghan government rather than achieving a decisive battlefield victory in this long guerrilla war.
But it's an open question as to whether Pakistan will use whatever influence it may have to bring the Haqqanis off the battlefield, because Pakistan and the United States do not have the same interests in the region.
Clinton said at the close of meetings centered on U.S. demands for more cooperation. "We have seen distrust harden into resentment and public accusation. We have seen common interests give way to mutual suspicion. We have seen common interests give way to mutual suspicion."
"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."
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 herself alluded to the utility of those ties, saying that the more important U.S. request of Pakistan is that it try 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.
"We should be able to agree that for too long extremists have been able to operate here in Pakistan and from Pakistani soil," Clinton told reporters at the news conference with Khar. "No one who targets innocent civilians, whether they be Pakistanis, Afghans, Americans or anyone else should be tolerated or protected."
In Washington, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had tough words for Pakistan during a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.
"We have the right to target not only forces and artillery attacking our forces in Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistan, but to target the people controlling those forces as well," he said.
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.
So, Clinton may have demanded more help in facilitating peace talks, even if the Haqqanis so far have seemed irreconcilable.
"We asked very specifically for greater cooperation from the Pakistani side to squeeze the Haqqani network and other terrorists, because we know that trying to eliminate terrorists and safe havens on one side of the border is not going to work," she said. It's unclear exactly what Pakistan is willing to do.