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Clinton Says Door Still Open For Taliban To Talk Peace, Warns Of 'Continuing Assault'


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (far right) with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (far left) in Islamabad.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (far right) with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (far left) in Islamabad.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States expects Pakistan to deny Afghan insurgents safe havens, and also sees a "strong" Pakistan as critical to stability in the region.

Speaking in Islamabad, Clinton said "Coalition and Afghan forces are increasing the pressure on the Taliban in Afghanistan" and "across the border, 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."

"We know that trying to eliminate terrorists and safe havens on one side of the border is not going to work," she added. "It is like that old story: you can't keep snakes in your back yard and expect them only to bite your neighbors. You know, eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the back yard. We know that, on both sides of the border."

She also said Washington and Islamabad should focus on getting militants from the Taliban and the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network involved in the Afghan peace process.

Clinton was holding more talks with Pakistani leaders on October 21 as she continued a visit aimed at boosting cooperation in the battle against Islamic militants.

A U.S. official said Clinton and a high-level U.S. delegation in Islamabad on October 20 held four hours of what were described as "extremely frank" talks with Pakistani leaders on the need for action against militants accused of using Pakistan as a safe haven to carry out attacks against U.S.-led forces across the border in neighboring Afghanistan.

Clinton arrived in Pakistan from an unannounced visit to Kabul, where she said her message to the Pakistani officials would be "very clear: We're going to be fighting, we are going to be talking and we are going to be building ... and they can either be helping or hindering, but we are not going to stop."

At a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Clinton maintained that Pakistan must be part of the solution to the Afghan conflict and should support Kabul's reconciliation efforts with the Taliban,

"Pakistan's cooperation is critical," she said. "Violent extremism has also taken the lives of thousands of Pakistanis as well as Afghans and, if you look beyond the history of distrust, it is clear that all countries in the region will have to work together for all the people in the region. So, I urge the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to resume their dialogue."

Haqqani 'A Veritable Arm' Of Pakistani Intelligence

The Islamabad meetings were expected to focus on Washington's longstanding demand that Pakistan launch an offensive against the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, which operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

In September, then Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen told a congressional committee that the Pakistan-based network is a "veritable arm" of the country's intelligence agency (ISI).

Pakistan has denied that, and takes strong offense at U.S. accusations that it isn't doing enough in the fight against terror and is supporting militants. Islamabad has stationed some 170,000 soldiers on its eastern border with Afghanistan and more than 3,000 soldiers have died in fighting.

In Afghanistan, Clinton met with Karzai and said afterwards that the United States "remains committed to an inclusive Afghan peace process that ends the conflict, protects the gains the Afghan people have achieved in the last 10 years, and helps bring greater stability and prosperity to the wider region."

Afghan policemen carry the body of a suicide attacker at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul's embassy district which the United States says was carried out by the Haqqani network.

Afghan policemen carry the body of a suicide attacker at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul's embassy district which the United States says was carried out by the Haqqani network.

She insisted that members of the Taliban "can either be part of Afghanistan's peaceful future and end 30 years of war or face continuing assault."

"Insurgents must renounce violence, abandon Al-Qaeda, and abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, including its protections for women and minorities," she said.

"The hard-won rights of Afghans, including women and minorities, must not be rolled back, and the growth of civil society must not be quashed, and the rule of law must not be threatened."

Militants have carried out a number of high-profile assassinations and brazen assaults on major cities and military targets in recent months. The Haqqani network, based in Pakistan, has been blamed for many of the attacks, including one on the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul.

Clinton also said Pakistan can help negotiate a solution to the Afghan conflict and expects Pakistanis to "support the efforts at talking."

"Pakistan's cooperation is critical. Violent extremism has also taken the lives of thousands of Pakistanis as well as Afghans and, if you look beyond the history of distrust, it is clear that all countries in the region will have to work together for all the people in the region," Clinton said.

"So, I urge the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to resume their dialogue."

Tense Relationship

Relations between Washington and Islamabad have soured in recent months, with the United States and Afghanistan urging Pakistan to do more against militant sanctuaries in its tribal areas.

U.S. officials have said the Haqqani network is linked to the Pakistani intelligence services -- a charge Islamabad denies.

Karzai discontinued attempts to negotiate with the Taliban since former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was Kabul's chief peace negotiator with the Taliban, was assassinated last month by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban envoy.

He explained that the focus of the peace process "would serve a better purpose taken to Pakistan."

"We believe that the Taliban, to a very, very great extent -- to a very, very great extent -- are controlled by establishments in Pakistan, stay in Pakistan, have their headquarters in Pakistan, launch operations from Pakistan," Karzai said.

"Therefore, it is not in a manner of pointing the finger, or in a manner of reprimand that we seek to talk to Pakistan, but in a manner of trying to find the proper venue and the proper authority for talks."

At a meeting at the U.S. Embassy earlier in the day, Clinton assured civic leaders that their concerns that any deal with Islamist militants could undo advances made in areas such as women's rights and education were "being heard at the highest levels of the U.S. government."

The United States is planning to withdraw troops and hand over security to the Afghans by 2014.

Clinton also met Burhanuddin Rabbani's son, Salahuddin, telling him that his father "was a brave man and trying to do the right thing."

In related news, Pakistani officials said at least three soldiers and up to 34 militants were killed in a gun battle in Pakistan's restive tribal district of Khyber along the Afghan border.

And the international coalition announced that NATO and Afghan forces had killed at least 115 insurgents over the past week as part of an operation in the northeastern Konar Province.

The alliance said that one NATO service member was killed in the fighting.

compiled from agency reports

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