The Obama administration has sharply warned Pakistan that it must cut ties with a leading Taliban group based in the tribal region along the Afghan border and help eliminate its leaders, according to officials from both countries.
In what amounts to an ultimatum, administration officials have indicated that the US will act unilaterally if Pakistan does not comply.
The message, delivered in high-level meetings and statements over the past several days, reflects the belief of a growing number of senior officials that a years-long strategy of using persuasion and military assistance to influence Pakistani behaviour has been ineffective.
White House officials and defense secretary Leon E Panetta are said to be adamant in their determination to change the approach, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Although he declined to provide details, Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that “we are going to take whatever steps are necessary to protect our forces” in Afghanistan from attacks by the Haqqani network, which has had a long relationship with Pakistan’s intelligence service.
As Panetta spoke, new CIA director David H Petraeus was holding an unpublicised private meeting in Washington with his Pakistani counterpart, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who met with Pakistan’s army chief in Madrid on Friday, said that the “proxy connection” between Pakistani intelligence and the Haqqani network was the focus of those discussions.
Again, secretary of state Hillary Clinton during a meeting on Sunday with her Pakistani counterpart, she warned that Pakistan is fast losing friends in Washington, according to one official familiar with the session.
Although US officials said they are continuing to look for a way forward with Pakistan, at least two factors are likely to narrow the administration’s options. As the conflict continues, Pakistan has fewer friends in Congress, where budget-cutting zeal increasingly coincides with pressure to stop funding assistance to Pakistan.
At the same time, the administration has grown increasingly determined to ease its way out of the Afghanistan conflict, and has diminishing patience for what it views as Pakistani impediments.
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