ISLAMABAD — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed Friday that U.S. officials have met secretly with members of the Pakistan-based Haqqani militant group, a disclosure that came as the top U.S. diplomat pressed Pakistani leaders to do more to rein in terrorists operating inside their country’s borders.
The meeting last summer with Haqqani leaders was arranged by Pakistan’s intelligence agency and was intended to gauge whether the notoriously violent Haqqanis could be enticed to join peace talks aimed at ending the decade-old insurgency in Afghanistan, State Department officials said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton led an unusually large U.S. delegation for two days of talks with civilian and military leaders in Pakistan. (Oct. 20)
U.S. delegation descends on Pakistan
Clinton cited the secret talks while urging Pakistan to pressure members of the Taliban and Haqqani networks into quitting violence and participating in an Afghan-led “reconciliation” process. But she also warned Pakistanis to step up the fight against insurgents who refuse to make peace, saying, “You cannot let these terrorists get a foothold anywhere, because they are uncontrollable and they create consequences.”
“If they kill a bunch of people and the signature is somebody in Pakistan did it, it’s going to be very hard to control that reaction,” Clinton told a panel of Pakistani journalists in Islamabad. “We are not making this up, we are not scapegoating, we are not blaming. We are trying to convey a sense of urgency about what could happen inside your own country.”
Clinton made the comments near the end of a two-day visit in which she mixed tough talk with offers of assistance and encouragement. After three rounds of meetings with Pakistani leaders, Clinton said the two countries had “cleared the air” and reinforced broad agreement on priorities for improving security.
But she also acknowledged lingering difficulties and said details of a plan for better cooperation on counterterrorism had yet to be worked out.
“We had very frank, very open exchanges, and we have heard each other,” Clinton said shortly after meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. “That doesn’t mean that the path forward is easy.”
Clinton’s fourth visit to Pakistan as secretary of state came at a low point in a frequently volatile relationship. Pakistanis were deeply angered by the U.S. military raid in May that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of providing sanctuary for the Haqqanis and other extremist groups that stage attacks on U.S. and Afghan troops across the border in Afghanistan.
With the scheduled departure of combat forces from Afghanistan just three years away, the Obama administration is pressing Pakistan to do more to stop insurgent and terrorist attacks emanating from the Pakistani side of the border. Clinton, who was accompanied by a high-level entourage that included CIA Director David H. Petraeus and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Pakistani officials at the start of the visit that the United States was prepared to act unilaterally if Pakistan did not clear out Haqqani havens in its territory.