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."