REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday put the onus squarely on Pakistan to move against insurgents taking sanctuary on its soil and to open the way for talks with them.
Clinton, on an unannounced visit to the Afghan capital, also made it clear that with or without the cooperation of the Islamabad government, the United States would strike hard at insurgent havens, even while trying to engage the fighters politically.
"We believe they can play a constructive or destructive role," she said of Pakistan, which has long maintained ties with militant organizations even while allied with the United States in battling them. "They can either be helping or hindering."
The blunt message came hours before the secretary of State was to depart for Islamabad and embark on what might prove to be contentious discussions with Pakistani officials. Pakistan has largely turned aside U.S. demands that it move decisively against the Haqqani network, a Taliban offshoot blamed for last month's sustained assault on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, among other high-profile attacks.
Clinton's Pakistan stance appeared to mark a moment of harmony with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has also insisted that Pakistan holds the key to any future negotiations with the insurgents who find refuge there. Afghanistan's fledgling peace process was abruptly derailed by last month's assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president who was the Afghan government's point man on talks with the Taliban.
The secretary of State called Rabbani's killing -- by an assailant claiming to be a Taliban peace envoy -- "despicable."
Karzai, for his part, said it was up to Pakistani officials to identify the militants on their soil and facilitate contacts with them in the wake of the assassination. Afghan officials, he said, needed "a door we can knock on, a telephone number we can call."
Clinton summarized the U.S. approach as "fight, talk, build" -- that is, battle the insurgents who have no interest in talking peace, engage politically with the others, and work to promote better governance and development in Afghanistan in the meantime.
She cited an ongoing U.S. and Afghan offensive against the Haqqanis in Afghanistan's Kunar province and promised that militants who continue to resist will face unrelenting military pressure.
But time is running short. With the Western combat mission due to wind down in 2014, Karzai is soon to announce more areas of the country where Afghan security forces will become principally responsible for fighting insurgents and safeguarding the public.
-- Laura King
Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks as Afghan President Hamid Karzai listens during a joint news conference in Kabul. Credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters