Islamabad: In a blunt message to Pakistan, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today demanded greater cooperation from the country to "squeeze" the Haqqani network responsible for attacks in Afghanistan, saying Islamabad could not keep "snakes" in its backyard to strike its neighbours.
"It's like that old story - you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard," Clinton said during a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
"We asked very specifically for greater cooperation from the Pakistani side to squeeze the Haqqani network and other terrorists because we know that trying to eliminate terrorists and safe havens on one side of the border is not going to work," she said.
Clinton, who arrived here yesterday with a high-level delegation that included CIA director David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Martin Dempsey, had earlier said the US intended to "push the Pakistanis very hard" to remove militant safe havens and tackle groups like the Haqqani network that are responsible for cross-border strikes.
She told the news conference: "We should be able to agree that for too long, extremists have been able to operate here in Pakistan and from Pakistani soil. No one who targets innocent civilians, whether they be Pakistanis, Afghans, Americans or anyone else, should be tolerated or protected."
Khar did not respond to questions about the US demand for action against groups like the Haqqani network, and said Pakistan's future strategies would be guided by a resolution adopted by a recent meeting of the country's political parties, which had called for giving "peace a chance."
Pakistan-US relations could not be based on a "to do list" and the two sides need to forge an "operational convergence or operation work plan" to facilitate the endgame in Afghanistan, Khar said.
"In evolving any future strategy, the government will be guided by the All Parties Conference resolution, which calls on the government to give peace a chance," she said, referring to the document that called for dialogue to end the unrest in Pakistan's northwest.
Asked about Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's recent remarks warning the US against launching any unilateral operation against the Haqqani network in its stronghold of North Waziristan, Clinton said she agreed with Kayani that "Pakistan is not Afghanistan or Iraq."
However, Clinton said Pakistan "has a very full and comprehensive agenda of issues to address both domestically and internationally" and the US will continue to work with the Pakistan government on that agenda.
As part of discussions on pressing issues like the Afghan peace process and reconciliation with the Afghan-Taliban, Pakistan and the US will have to work jointly on efforts to "squeeze" the Haqqani network and prevent it from planning and executing attacks across the border, she said.
Clinton said her discussions in this regard included "specifics" and the US now looked forward to operationalising these measures in "days and weeks, not months and years as there is a lot of work to do."
She did not give details about the specifics.
"We look to Pakistan to take strong steps to deny Afghan insurgents safe havens and to encourage the Taliban to enter negotiations in good faith," she said.
At the same time, Clinton sought to address Pakistani concerns about militants based within Afghanistan launching attacks on Pakistani border villages and check posts.
Afghan and US forces had launched an operation against Haqqani operatives that had resulted in the killing or capture of "many dozens, if not hundreds" of militants, she said.
"With respect to the Haqqanis, we both agreed that terrorism coming from any source is a threat to all of us. We expressed very clearly our concerns about safe havens on both sides of the border. We reasserted our commitment of doing more on the Afghan side of border to try to eliminate safe havens that fuel insurgency and attacks inside Pakistan," Clinton said.
She rejected efforts within Pakistan to blame the US for all of the country's problems and called for relations based on "mutual respect and mutual responsibility."
"It is important to us that you understand our commitment to a stable, secure, sovereign and prosperous Pakistan," she said.
At the same time, the US would "encourage Pakistan and Afghanistan to get back to working together" on the Afghan reconciliation process through a direct dialogue, Clinton said.
Efforts will also be made to "restart the core group of US, Pakistan and Afghanistan" and frame a work plan for a "transparent and open" reconciliation process so that there are "no constant questions and suspicions," she said.
Ending terrorism is the "most urgent task" for the US but it would also focus on efforts like fashioning a "new Silk Road" for regional economic integration, greater investment and cross-border trade, more jobs and increased political stability, she said.
Clinton emphasised that it was "up to the leaders of Pakistan to follow through on their commitments to reduce corruption, implement reforms and deliver real results for the
"The US welcomes the progress that Pakistan and India are making toward normalising their trade relations as well as the implementation of the transit trade agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan," she said.
Khar acknowledged that Pakistan-US ties had gone through a "challenging phase" in the past few months though the two sides have a convergence on stated objectives for the region.
Pakistan's engagements with the US in the past six months have been focussed on reviewing and revisiting bilateral relations, she said.
Responding to Pakistani Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah's fresh treat to launch a new war within Pakistan, Clinton said the US had "great cooperation" in the past with Pakistan in efforts directed against Al Qaeda and would now have to turn its attention to the "Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, Haqqani and other terrorist groups and try to get them into a peace process".
"But if that fails, prevent them from committing more violence and murdering more innocent people," she said.