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Clinton’s Tough Message: Play ball or don’t ask for Help

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse ,June 03, 2011

“America cannot and should not solve Pakistan’s problems. That’s up to Pakistan. But in solving its problems, Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make problems disappear. It is up to the Pakistani people to choose what kind of country they wish to live in and it is up to the leaders of Pakistan to deliver results for the people.” (Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at Islamabad May 27th, 2011) 

Secretary Clinton’s words amounted to the strongest ever rebuke to Pakistan’s wish-list of expectations from her country. 

If you don’t play ball, don’t expect anything from us either, was the clear message Clinton delivered after her six hour stay in Islamabad on May 27th. 

During her less than a day visit to Islamabad, Secretary Clinton looked tense and concerned. Despite the diplomatic gloss she attempted to put on her meetings with Pakistan’s entire leadership – the president, prime minister, the army chief, the head of ISI, and ministers for foreign affairs and interior – Clinton failed to conceal the bitterness that had taken over the entire Obama administration after the recovery of Osama bin Laden from Abbotabad. 

While Ms Clinton signaled to appreciate the claims that the top military or ISI leadership was unaware of bin Laden’s presence in the small garrison town she also sounded firm in her warnings that Pakistan needed to make tough choices be it in the fight against terrorism, governance or economic reforms. In solving its problems Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make its problems disappear,” she said in what sounded like a repeat of warnings liberal intelligentsia has been sounding out for quite some time. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, reputed as Pakistan’s friend, also spoke of the challenges under which this “relationship now labours. ” “Now is not the time for retreat or for recrimination. Now is the time for action and closer cooperation, not less,” Mullen said to the context of news that both Clinton and Mullen laid out the road-map for continuing the relationship. In their meetings with the Pakistani leaders, they reportedly handed over list of five militant leaders currently believed to be leading the insurgency in Afghanistan. 

Clinton left no doubt whatsoever as far as Washington’s desire for an across-the-board action against militant outfits is concerned; That there can be no peace, no stability, no democracy, no future for Pakistan unless the violent extremists are removed, either by coming to their senses and recognizing that they should be part of a political process if they have a point of view to present and not try to inflict their ideology or their prejudices on an entire nation, or they will have to be killed or captured, she explained.

The US wants intelligence about all the groups and possibly to target them in joint operations wherever possible. Those on the list, American diplomats told some of the Pakistani journalists, included Osama bin Laden deputy Ayman al Zawahiri and Taliban commander Mullah Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani network, Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani militant believed to be a facilitator for al Qaeda and projected by some as “the next Osama bin Laden, and Atiya Abdel Rahman, the Libyan operations chief of al Qaeda who had emerged as a key intermediary between bin Laden and al Qaeda’s affiliate networks across the world. For years, Pakistan shirked the US demands for a crackdown on the Haqqani network, stating army’s capacity as well as domestic political reasons that it said dictated caution. One of the fears haunting the military was the imminent blow-back from Haqqani’s Pakistani supporters and ideological partners i.e. Lashkare Taiba, Lashkare Jhangvi, Jaishe Mohammad and Sipahe Sahaba Pakistan – almost all of them headquartered in the poorly governed and densely-populated southern Punjab, where the police-to-citizen ration is alarmingly disproportionate to the 42 million residents in a volatile environment. 

In fact, military action, however limited had become imminent after the recovery of Osama bin Laden. With that embarrassing episode, the arguments forwarded against a full scale operation in NW lost their relevance. 

That is why more than two weeks ago, Pakistani military authorities responsible for the KPK and FATA had cautioned international relief organizations to prepare for a possible displacement of upto 50000 families from North Waziristan in case an operation is launched. 

The warning to the humanitarian organizations was the clearest indication of the impending operation in North Waziristan and suggested the Pakistan army saw no way around it any more after years of reluctance in doing so.

The inevitable is about to happen, however selective it may be and a brief sentence from Hilary Clinton explained the entire matrix that both American and Pakistan leaders discussed on May 27th. 

“And we heard today for short term cooperation some very specific actions that Pakistan will take and that we will take together.” And we reaffirmed our commitment to the medium and long-term relationship.” 

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk