National Security Advisor (NSA) Susan Rice spelt out the steps the US expects Pakistan to take for dealing with the Haqqani Network, stressing these are crucial for Islamabad’s relations with Washington and Kabul.
Rice conveyed her message, described by a senior US official as “frank”, during interactions with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and senior Pakistani officials on Sunday, the Dawn newspaper reported.
The US NSA was in Islamabad on a day-long visit to deliver an invitation to Sharif for a meeting with President Barack Obama on October 22.
The sense emerging from Rice’s meetings with Sharif, NSA Sartaj Aziz and army chief Gen Raheel Sharif was counter-terrorism and Washington’s perception that Pakistan is not adequately targeting the Haqqani Network in its operations against terrorist groups in North Waziristan will dominate the agenda during the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, the report said.
The US has had doubts about Pakistan taking on the Haqqani Network since the start of the army’s Zarb-i-Azb operation last year but it became more vocal about those concerns after deadly attacks in Kabul earlier this month which, American officials says, were carried out by Haqqani cadres.
“Ms Rice expressed concern over the deadly attacks in Kabul, which were perpetrated by the Haqqani network. This is absolutely unacceptable...We look forward to Pakistan working to reduce this threat,” an unnamed senior US official was quoted as saying in a briefing on Rice’s visit.
The official said Pakistan had been conveyed the “specific measures” it was expected to take for stopping attacks by the Haqqani Network. The official did not elaborate on these steps.
Rice also explored how the US could collaborate with Pakistan in dealing with the Haqqanis.
As she left Pakistan, Rice tweeted: “In Islamabad today, discussed how to deepen cooperation to tackle shared priorities. Encouraged Pakistan to advance regional peace and stability.”
She added that she “conveyed President Obama’s invitation to PM Sharif to visit the White House in October to continue discussions”.
The US has been gradually increasing pressure on Pakistan on the issue of tackling the Haqqani Network. Even before the recent attacks in Kabul, Pakistan was told by the US that the defence secretary would not certify to Congress that the military operation in North Waziristan had downgraded the Haqqani Network.
The move would block the disbursement to Pakistan of about $300 million from the Coalition Support Fund. The non-certification was expected to cloud bilateral ties that were thought to have stabilised over the past couple of years.
Stressing the importance of Pakistan acting against the Haqqani Network, the US official said the issue had “developed into a key point of regional friction” and “addressing this challenge will be imperative for Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours and with Washington, especially given the recent upsurge in violence in Kabul and the Taliban’s bloody campaign this fighting season in Afghanistan”.
Rice also spoke to her Pakistani interlocutors about the downturn in Islamabad’s relations with Kabul after the uptick in violence in Afghanistan this month and the future of the stalled peace talks with the Taliban.
The official said the US was hopeful of the resumption of contacts between Pakistan and Afghanistan for addressing issues between them so that they could return to the “positive climate” that existed earlier.
“Ms Rice noted that Pakistan should continue to work constructively to take advantage of the death of Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership transition. They discussed ways that Pakistan, in coordination with Kabul, could further support the Afghan-led reconciliation process at this critical juncture,” the official said.
Pakistan’s tensions with India and the spike in violence along the Line of Control and the international border in Jammu and Kashmir also featured in Rice’s meetings in Islamabad.
About Rice’s meeting with Sartaj Aziz, the Foreign Office spokesman said: “Wide-ranging discussions were held on the regional situation, especially in the wake of emerging security environment in Afghanistan and current stalemate in Pakistan-India dialogue process.”
A military spokesman said Rice and the Pakistan Army chief discussed matters of mutual interest, including the regional security situation.
This was the first visit by a US NSA to Pakistan since 2010, when the then adviser, Gen James L Jones, had met former president Asif Ali Zardari.