These are the troubled times in India’s backyard as US and NATO forces gather in strength in Afghanistan close to the Pakistan border. The moment of reckoning has come for Pakistan in its relations with the United States – and India’s Pakistan watchers are keeping their fingers crossed.
The increasing bluntness of US leaders’ public statements on Pakistan’s sins of omission and commission on the issue of terrorism indicate that US-Pakistan relations are back to the days in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, when then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell reportedly told Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf ‘You are either with us or against us.’
A decade later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hasn’t minced her words either, warning Pakistan at her joint press conference with Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in Islamabad today that Pakistan can’t keep snakes in its backyard.
She was even tougher in Kabul over terrorist groups that have routinely been using Pakistani territory for their operations. ‘This is a time for clarity,’ she said, in comments clearly aimed at Pakistan’s leadership. The tough talk makes one thing very clear: American patience with Pakistan is once again wearing thin.
The United States wants Pakistan to take concrete action against the Haqqani network, which has been working feverishly against US interests in the Af-Pak region. The Americans have been prodding the Pakistani government to launch military action against the Haqqanis at the earliest opportunity. But the problem is that the Pakistani leadership, particularly the military leadership, has been refusing to do so, citing military concerns. Pakistan argues that it’s unable to take on the Haqqanis militarily because thousands of its troops are already fighting a grim battle against the Pakistan Taliban and their cohorts in the lawless tribal regions along the Afghanistan border.
But Clinton pushed the envelope further today by suggesting that the Pakistani government should force the Haqqanis into peace talks, disclosing that the United States has started direct talks with the Haqqani network and already held one round of exploratory talks with them.
‘We think for a variety of reasons that Pakistan has the capacity to encourage, to push, to squeeze…terrorists including the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban…to engage in the Afghan peace process. So that is what we are looking for,’ she said today.
Pakistan has already tried to play the China card in its standoff with the Americans, but the Chinese haven’t so far come out in strong support of Pakistan. The next move will have to be made by the United States. The big questions are when, and how?