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Monday, September 19, 2011

Clinton focuses on Haqqani network in talks with Khar

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON: “The first and the last thing” on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s agenda for her three-and-a-half-hour meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was counter-terrorism, particularly the issue of the Haqqani network, says the US State Department.

Secretary Clinton met Ms Khar in New York on Sunday evening and were “fully up to date” on the meetings between US and Pakistani military leaders in Spain two days ago, US officials said.

Later, the State Department released an unusually candid account of the meeting, with two senior officials telling reporters how the meeting was planned, how it proceeded and what subjects were discussed.

The two officials explained that when Secretary Clinton was given the schedule of her meetings during the current UN General Assembly, she said she did not just want 20 or 30 minutes with the Pakistani foreign minister, but wanted to “really sit down and talk and have a conversation about where Pakistan and the United States were headed”.

Secretary Clinton wanted to make sure that she was given “the time and respect to hear Pakistan’s views, and we hope that they would similarly listen to ours”, one of the officials said.

But the Sept 13 attacks on the US Embassy and Nato headquarters in Kabul changed the nature of the meeting.

“And although it still lasted a good long time and we did review the whole nature of our relationship, the issue of counter-terrorism and particularly the issue of the Haqqani network was, as you can imagine, the first thing on the secretary’s agenda and also the last,” the official said.

“The Secretary’s message was that given the efforts of the Haqqani network on the 13th of September, that this was an issue that we had to deal with and that this is a threat to both Pakistan and the United States.”

The Pakistani foreign minister was quite clear in return that “they couldn’t condemn more” the Sept 13 attacks and that this kind of terrorism was a threat to Pakistan and to Pakistanis as well.

“That part of the conversation concluded that joint efforts need to be made to end this threat from the Haqqanis, and that Pakistan and the United States ought to be working together on this and not separately,” said the US official. “And I thought it was important that both ministers committed themselves to working on this as a matter of priority.”

The rest of the conversation focused on three issues: the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process, the regional aspects of bringing peace to Afghanistan and bringing prosperity to the South Asian region.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir briefed the US side on last week’s meeting of the Pak-Afghan commission and the two sides discussed their joint goals for reconciliation in Afghanistan.

While discussing a regional approach for bringing peace to Afghanistan, the two sides also reviewed the upcoming meetings in Istanbul on Nov 2 and in Bonn on Dec 5 and the role that Pakistan was interested in and could play to support that regional effort.

Secretary Clinton talked about the idea of the New Silk Road, her vision of an economic space between Central Asia and India that she proposed in Chennai earlier this year.

Foreign Minister Khar raised economic issues that were important to Pakistan, like market access and the reconstruction opportunity zones.

“Can you say whether the secretary requested and whether the minister agreed to for Pakistan to take additional action against the Haqqani network?” the two officials were asked.

“Well, there are two things. One is that there are clearly actions that the Pakistanis could take to go after the Haqqani network, and I thought the minister was quite clear in saying that those were the kinds of things that the Pakistani government would look at and would take action on. And then secondly, there are those things that it might be possible to do jointly. And so there was a conversation about what those kinds of things might entail as well,” one of the officials replied.

“The secretary did suggest specific things that Pakistan could do to go after them more strongly?” a journalist asked.

“What we said was that this is a huge problem and that Pakistan’s got to deal with it,” the official replied.

“Was the Haqqani network literally the first and the last thing that they talked about in this meeting?” asked another journalist.rEAD MORE AT DAWN.COM

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