Continuing with the veil of secrecy that has always shrouded U.S.-Pakistan relations, both governments on Saturday refused to confirm or deny a news report that Washington had handed over a list of five terrorists it wants Islamabad to ensnare, possibly in a joint operation.
Asked about the list, Foreign Office spokesperson Tehmina Janjua refused to confirm or deny its existence. “I will not go into operational details; at this point we need to focus on the larger picture,'' she said, while describing the bilateral engagement in Islamabad during U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit on Friday as an attempt at course correction. Neither did the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad respond to a similar query.
According to the ABC, Washington has sought intelligence back-up from Islamabad on five terrorists: Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al Zawahiri; Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Omar; operational head of the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani; and senior al-Qaeda operatives Ilyas Kashmiri and Atiya Abdel Rahman (Libyan operations chief of the network).
In the case of Omar, the U.S. apparently wants Pakistan's assessment on whether he is amenable to participating in the Afghan reconciliation process. With bin Laden dead, security analysts believe that Omar – who heads the Quetta Shura (the highest decision-making body of the Afghan Taliban) from Pakistan – would now be prepared to distance himself from the al-Qaeda and carve out a share for himself in the Kabul power equation.
As to whether the course correction would result in Pakistan acting against the Haqqani network – widely held responsible for many of the attacks on Americans in Afghanistan from its safe haven in North Waziristan – Ms. Janjua again refused to be drawn into specifics. Stating that Pakistan has been bearing the blowback effect of the war on terror almost on a daily basis, she said the government was determined to eliminate all terrorists who had declared war on Pakistan and eliminate terrorism from this country.
The Haqqani network has never attacked Pakistan and its presence in North Waziristan has been a major irritant to the U.S. While acknowledging Islamabad's key role in the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, Ms. Clinton had also underlined Pakistan's responsibility in helping Afghanistan by preventing insurgents from waging war from Pakistani territory. She shied away from specifics when asked if the U.S. had secured a commitment from Pakistan on acting against the Haqqani network. Instead, she said there was realisation here that “there can be no peace, no stability, no democracy, no future for Pakistan unless the violent extremists are removed.”