U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top U.S. military and intelligence leaders delivered a tough warning to Pakistan on Thursday to cut suspected ties with militant groups which have upset relations between the uneasy allies.
Clinton led a heavyweight U.S. team at talks in Islamabad to press Pakistani counterparts on U.S. accusations that Pakistan assists militants who launch attacks on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border and increasingly threaten U.S. interests.
The meeting lasted for four hours. It was extremely frank, the discussion was very detailed, a senior U.S. official said after the meeting, adding that more discussions were planned for Friday.
The visit by Clinton, CIA director David Petraeus and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, was a sign that Washington is determined to get its message across amid rising tensions among three key players in the Afghanistan war.
The meeting included Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, the powerful army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who heads the Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) agency which U.S. officials have singled out for its alleged support of militant groups.
Earlier on Thursday during a visit to Kabul, Clinton said it was time to send a clear, unequivocal message to Pakistan that it must step up efforts to broker an end to the decade-long war in Afghanistan and crack down on safe havens used by militants.
They must be part of the solution and that means ridding their own country of terrorists who kill their own people and cross the border to kill in Afghanistan, Clinton said.
We're going to be fighting, we're going to be talking and we're going to be building. And they can either be helping or hindering, but we are not going to stop our efforts.
Pakistani analysts agreed that the U.S. officials were sending a tough message to Pakistan.
I think they've decided that they want to have a final word about the Pakistan-U.S. relationship, especially with reference to Afghanistan, said Tanvir Ahmed Khan, Pakistani foreign secretary from 1989-90.
The presence of Petraeus at the talks was especially significant, said political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.
America will produce evidence before the army chief, that you are involved (in supporting the violence in Afghanistan). With David Petraeus coming as well, they have definitely brought vidence, he said.
He will provide evidence that you are involved, ISI is involved, he added. But nothing will come out in public.
U.S. and Afghan officials have drawn links between elements within Pakistan and September's attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the assassination of Afghanistan's peace envoy.
Pakistan has denied the accusations, saying Washington is downplaying the heavy burden that Islamabad bears in the fight against militancy, and warned that continued negative messaging from Washington was undercutting public support for the conflict.
The tensions have complicated the outlook as the Obama administration pushes ahead with plans to draw down troops and hand security control to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
U.S. officials had earlier said Clinton would seek to strike a constructive tone in discussions with Pakistani leaders, but on Thursday she struck a tough tone.
It is a time for clarity. It is a time for people to declare themselves as to how we are going to work together, she said at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
She said the United States still believed it would be possible to reach a political solution in Afghanistan and repeated that the Taliban should agree to enter the political process or face continued assault from the U.S.-led alliance.
Karzai said the focus of the Afghan peace effort would now be Pakistan, which he said effectively controlled the militants and provided them with safe havens they use for their attacks.
Unless we pay attention to sanctuaries, and unless we go to the proper authority that leads and controls all that, we will not be able to have either a successful peace process or a successful campaign against terrorism, he said.
Clinton, too, focused on militant safe havens in Pakistan, saying it was time to turn with real intensity to the safe havens within Pakistan, including those allegedly used by the Haqqani network, one of the most feared of such groups.
Now it is a question how much cooperation Pakistan will provide going after those safe havens, she said.
Clinton's visit to Pakistan comes a day after army chief Kayani told parliament's defense committee the United States should focus on stabilizing Afghanistan instead of pushing Pakistan to attack the Haqqanis in the border region.