The United States sent an extraordinary, high-level delegation to Islamabad to deliver blunt messages to Pakistan that it needed to help target militants who attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan and bring the same militants to the negotiating table, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.
The dual track is the outcome of weeks of intense discussions in Washington in which U.S. officials, who are now focusing their attention on the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, concluded they must fully embrace political discussions with even the most dangerous militant organizations -- and at the same time increase aggressive military and CIA operations against those very organizations.
"The sad and painful truth is you don't make peace with your friends. You don't sit down across the table from people who you already have some kind of an agreement with," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told ABC News in an interview in Kabul yesterday, ahead of her trip to Pakistan. "This now has reached the point, in our opinion, where it's appropriate to begin talking. But that doesn't mean we stop fighting. We do both. They certainly are doing both."
But that dual approach has largely been rejected by Pakistani officials. Though the U.S. has long blamed Pakistan for assisting the Haqqani network, it now wants to use those ongoing connections in order to bring the militant network to the negotiating table. But the Pakistanis believe the Afghan Taliban militants who are fighting the U.S. from safe havens inside Pakistan won't talk and fight at the same time. They support outreach to the Haqqani network, but insist that for negotiations to take hold, the U.S. needs to wholeheartedly embrace them while at the same time agreeing to reduce its attacks.
"In Afghan culture, you have to pause the attacks to provide the enabling space for that political initiative to work," a Pakistani security official told ABC News.
That disagreement is a reflection of the continuing problems that the two sides have with each other, especially when it comes to the future of Afghanistan. It's not clear what, if anything, the U.S. achieved out of the two-day visit, and it's not clear whether the U.S. and Pakistan are any closer to agreeing on a way to end the Afghan war.
The U.S. delivered its message with the most senior delegation to visit Pakistan since 9/11: it included Clinton, the country's top diplomat, CIA Director David Petraeus, the nation's top spy, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, the top U.S. military official. U.S. officials said their goal was to say, with one voice, that the U.S. had decided how it wanted to find an end to the war in Afghanistan -- and that it was up to Pakistan to decide what it wanted to do.
Clinton, Petraeus, and Dempsey held a four-hour meeting late into the night Thursday with top Pakistani military, government, and intelligence officials that both the U.S. and Pakistani side described as "tense."
U.S. Focuses on Haqqani Network
Following the deaths of major al Qaeda figures in Pakistan, the U.S. has clearly shifted its focus to the Afghan Taliban -- most notably the Haqqani network, which is responsible for more U.S. deaths than any other insurgent group in Afghanistan.
The turning points, say U.S. officials, were a series of events around the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A few months before the anniversary, the U.S. was told by the Pakistani military that meeting with a senior member of the Haqqani network might help reconciliation efforts, according to a U.S. and a Pakistani official.
But the meeting went nowhere, and the Haqqani network unleashed two of the most memorable attacks of the war: On Sept. 10, a truck bomb wounded 77 U.S. soldiers, and on Sept. 13, militants fired rockets into the U.S. embassy and NATO's military headquarters in Kabul.
The U.S. responded with force. In the weeks that followed the attacks, the U.S. military in eastern Afghanistan increased its tempo against the Haqqani network, and the CIA turned its sights on Miran Shah, the Haqqani's stronghold in North Waziristan. Two strikes hit a suburb of the city, the first time the area had been struck in more than a year -- a message, U.S. officials said, that it would aggressively pursue Haqqani militants on both sides of the border.
At the same time, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen called the Haqqani network "a veritable arm" of Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI. The strikes, a senior U.S. official said, were a way to communicate to the Pakistanis that the Haqqani network was going to be the U.S.'s number one focus from now on.
Pakistan needs to "cut off all connections between elements of the military or the intelligence service who provide information and give advance notice -- we know for a fact -- to certain elements of these terrorist groups," Clinton, who one U.S. official said helped authorize the military onslaught, told ABC News.
"What is not manageable or acceptable are the safe havens," Clinton continued. "It's one thing for a rogue group of Frontier Corps or Afghan police to be shooting back and forth across the border. It is something entirely different for there to be, in settled areas of Pakistan, the headquarters of groups that are directing actions against our troops, that are running operations against our troops, that are killing Americans and Afghans. And that's what has to stop."
The U.S. accuses the Pakistani military and the ISI of supporting or at the very least ignoring the safe havens that the Haqqani network uses in Pakistan to attack Afghanistan. Pakistan's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, made the rare admission Friday that there are, in fact, safe havens inside Pakistan for militants.
But the public U.S. accusations have angered the Pakistani military, which did not hold back its criticism of the U.S. side at the beginning of Thursday's four-hour meetings.
The Pakistani security official described U.S. criticism as a rhetorical "offensive" that "denies a space of cooperation and is not the way forward for a good relationship. And it's not constructive at all. Our position was very clear on that."
Pakistani Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and ISI Director General Ahmad Shuja Pasha both denied that the ISI helped maintain Taliban safe havens inside Pakistan, the security official said.
"We can't afford just to support a group at the cost of 43 nations in Afghanistan," he said.
Clinton urged the Pakistanis to publicly declare their support for political talks with Afghan insurgents, saying she expected actions within "days or weeks." But she left open the door that the U.S. would act unilaterally if the Pakistanis did not provide the help the U.S. was looking for.
"Our actions will depend on whether they cooperate or not," Clinton said in the interview with ABC News.
And though the initial meeting with the Haqqani network failed, Clinton said the U.S. must try a concerted effort to make peace -- and if it doesn't work, "at least we tried."