U.S. Accuses Pakistan Of Harboring Haqqani Network

The relationship between Pakistan and the United States is becoming increasingly more complicated. Officials from both countries have stepped up public criticism of each others foreign policy, and Pakistan's prime minister won't be attending the gathering of world leaders this week at the United Nations General Assembly.

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Not too long ago, the security writer Stephen Cohen summed up the U.S. relationship with Pakistan in a sentence. Pakistan, he said, is an ally, but not a friend. His words underline mutual cooperation and mutual frustration in the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban. Right now, American officials are intensifying pressure on Pakistan. They believe Pakistan is serving as a shelter for the Haqqani network, a group accused of violence in nearby Afghanistan. NPR's Julie McCarthy is covering this story from Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Hi there.

INSKEEP: And I should mention the U.S. has been unhappy about the Haqqani network for a while. What's different now?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think what's different is the tone here. You have unusually blunt talk coming out of Washington in what is usually this very sensitive U.S.-Pakistan relationship. This whole question of the Haqqani network used to be the purview of these closed-door meetings between the U.S. top brass sitting down with Pakistan's military leaders and saying, look, more needs to be done to stop the Haqqani network from using Pakistan as a base of operations.

You know, the latest U.S. charge is that the Haqqani militants staged last week's 20-hour-long assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul. And that has now turned into a chorus of senior U.S. officials saying it very publicly. The U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, Cameron Munter, was on Pakistan radio this weekend, Steve, talking about it in very blunt terms. Here's what he had to say about Pakistan's role in enabling the Haqqani network.

CAMERON MUNTER: The attack that took place in Kabul a few days ago that was the work of the Haqqani network. And the fact that as we have said in the past that there is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistani government. This is something that must stop. We have to make sure that we work together to fight terrorism, to recognize the common enemy, the people who attack Pakistanis, the people who attack Americans, the people who attack other allies of ours. We have to fight these people. We can't let events like what happened in Kabul take place.

INSKEEP: You can sense the unhappiness there, particularly because Munter himself is a U.S. diplomat in a U.S. embassy. What is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his boss, saying about this attack on the embassy in Kabul in her meetings with Pakistani officials?

MCCARTHY: Well, interestingly, she just had a very lengthy meeting with her Pakistani counterpart in the run-up to the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. And that was a three hour-plus meeting, which suggests the importance, of course, that the U.S. attaches to this relationship.

But an American official said that Clinton opened the meeting talking about the Haqqani network and closed it that way. So those talks that centered on counterterrorism were very much about Haqqani. And they were described as very candid.

INSKEEP: Weren't U.S. and Pakistani officials starting to get back on the same page after all the uproar over the finding and killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan?

MCCARTHY: Yes, they were. But I think what you're seeing in this coordinated blunt talk is a genuine shift in attitude. The focus now seems to be on the points where the U.S. and Pakistan diverge.

Under the late U.S. special envoy here, Richard Holbrooke, the public focus was convergence. I mean, you still have a lot of that in terms of common ground, joint counterterrorism activities resuming, millions of dollars worth of aid supposed to be flowing into Pakistan.

But the things that separate the two sides are beginning to overshadow everything, Steve. And it's also a question of timing, of course. Washington is eager to expedite its withdrawal from Afghanistan next door. And it needs Pakistan's help to do that. So this issue will be front and center.

INSKEEP: I want to just keep the geography in our minds here. Afghanistan is along Pakistan's border. There is this region along the border, the tribal region, where in one area the Haqqani's are alleged to be able to hide out in spite of the presence of Pakistani troops nearby but never quite striking them. That's the allegation anyway. Why would the Pakistanis not go all out against this group that's causing so much trouble?

MCCARTHY: Well, the Pakistanis figure that the Taliban and their allies, the Haqqanis, will have a place in a future government, and they want a friendly ally in Kabul. But you know, Steve, all of this raises the big question of Pakistan continuing to treat militants as so-called strategic assets. It's a policy that's failed in the past. And whether the Pakistani military may still think it's worthwhile is the big dispute with Washington.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Islamabad.

Thanks very much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Steve.

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