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Clinton arrives in Pakistan to discuss Afghanistan’s future

October 20, 2011 |  8:50 am

REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s arrival in Islamabad on Thursday signaled an all-out bid to cajole Pakistan’s cooperation against an Afghan insurgent group that attack U.S. and Afghan forces from sanctuaries in Pakistani territory.

But the visit comes as the Muslim nation’s military leaders appear more determined than ever to resist Washington’s pleas.

Clinton was accompanied by CIA Director David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, a formidable display of diplomatic force apparently aimed at showcasing Washington’s unity behind the strategy for peacefully resolving 10 years of war in Afghanistan.

Central to that strategy is the need to secure Pakistan’s help in brokering peace talks with Afghan Taliban insurgent groups, particularly the Haqqani network, which maintains havens in Pakistan’s largely lawless tribal areas.

Pakistan’s military leaders have acknowledged maintaining contact with the Afghan militant group but have angrily denied Washington’s accusations that members of their nation's intelligence agency  assisted Haqqani militants who last month attacked the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and launched a truck bombing that injured 77 U.S. soldiers in Wardak province.

Clinton’s agenda Thursday night included meetings with Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

Earlier Thursday, she met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul and later told reporters that the U.S. “must send a clear, unequivocal message to the government and people of Pakistan that they must be part of the solution, and that means ridding their own country of terrorists who kill their own people and who cross the border to kill people in Afghanistan."

Clinton’s visit to Pakistan illustrates the vexing dilemma the Obama administration faces as it tries to end a war in which more than 1,800 U.S. soldiers have been killed as well as thousands of Afghan civilians. Officials in both Washington and Kabul recognize that Pakistan’s cooperation is pivotal to any negotiated resolution to the Afghan war. Both the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban leadership council known as the Quetta Shura are based in Pakistan.

And yet, many in Washington and Kabul view Pakistan as an obstructionist force that supports Afghan insurgents because it needs them as a hedge against any move by nuclear archrival India to spread influence over Afghanistan once U.S. troops leave.

Kabul also has accused Pakistan's intelligence service of involvement in the assassination last month of Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s point man for negotiations with the Taliban. Pakistan has vehemently denied the charge.


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Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Thursday. Credit: S. Sabawoon / Pool