US, Pak must find middle ground on Afghan

Islamabad: As Hillary Clinton concluded her crucial visit here, Pakistani media today focused on her "tough message" demanding action against the Haqqani network blamed for attacks in Afghanistan and said the two sides must find some middle ground to facilitate the endgame in the war- torn country.

Secretary of State Clinton ended her two-day visit to Pakistan on Friday by making it clear that the time had come for Islamabad to crack down on terrorist groups like the Haqqani network that operate from its soil. Pakistan must take action against these groups if they do not respond to overtures to get them into a peace process, she said.

"Pakistan has `days and weeks` to act: US", said the headline in the Daily Times while The Express Tribune headlined its report: "Convince Taliban to talk, US asks Pakistan".

The reports focused on Clinton`s "tough message" on the need for action against the Haqqani network, which the US has blamed for a string of major attacks in Afghanistan, and Pakistan`s role in facilitating the end of the conflict in the neighbouring country. Clinton had "more or less signalled" what the US wants to achieve ? "Pakistan`s change of its Afghan policy that, in the eyes of the US, causes clashes and cross-border terrorism between Pakistan and Afghanistan," The Express Tribune said in its editorial titled "A middle ground must be found".

Though Clinton welcomed the thaw developing between India and Pakistan in economic ties, the US will not "lessen the intensity of the demands she would have probably made unless the (Pakistani) military gives her the space she needs to sound less admonishing," the editorial said.

The News daily, in its editorial, noted that Clinton had clarified "three main grey areas" that had plagued Pakistan-US relations. She accepted that there was no evidence of the ISI`s involvement in the attack on the US embassy in Kabul, and confirmed that US officials had reached out to the Haqqanis to test their interest in peace talks.

"This, to some extent, demonstrates an understanding of the need to work with Pakistan, and also Afghanistan, to develop a sequence for actual negotiations," the editorial said.

Clinton also put to rest speculation about a possible US troop build-up on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border opposite North Waziristan, saying there would be no ground offensive against Pakistan under any circumstances.

However, the fact that Clinton was accompanied by a large delegation that included the CIA director and US military chief showed the US "wanted to project that there was unity among the various US agencies with an interest in Pakistan and to put to rest, once and for all, the Pakistani claims of confusion on the US side about what it expects from Pakistan," the editorial said.

"That the top leaders of the CIA, the US military and the State Department, all met with a whole range of Pakistani leaders is a new way of packaging the message to Pakistan and to say that they expect the Pakistani government, military and intelligence services to take the lead in finding a solution to the Afghan conflict and in fighting militants based within it," The News concluded.

Despite Clinton`s warning that Pakistan needs to act against groups like the Haqqani network, The Express Tribune said the "fact is that Pakistan will not act against the safe haven of the Haqqanis, full stop.

"Both the US and Pakistan cannot prolong the current contest of who blinks first. A middle ground of continued dialogue and cooperation must be found."

The Daily Times, in its editorial "Resolute but Unsteady", noted that Clinton had come "with warnings". It said: "Her message is that Pakistan has to decide whether it would help or hinder the US-led war on terror and that the US would continue pursuing the terrorists in the region with or without Pakistan`s engagement."

Though some "might think that Pakistan and the US have come to an understanding over the issue of the Haqqani network," this does not appear to be the case, the editorial said. "The Pakistani military leadership seems still adamant. It has not changed its stance on the US demand that Pakistan must stop its support to and launch an operation against the Haqqani network," it added.

The US is concerned that Taliban fighters in Afghanistan`s Kunar and Nooristan provinces "under the patronage of the Haqqani network would not allow the Kabul government to achieve stability in the post-2014 scenario," the Daily Times said.

Pakistan or the US had not "moved an inch from their respective standpoints, frustrating the hope of resolving the impasse". "There is even a possibility that the US tone would grow harsher if its soldiers continue to die at the hands of the terrorist Haqqani network," the Daily Times said.