After a dangerous verbal escalation between top officials of the two countries, the United States appeared to back down from the simmering faceoff with Pakistan over allegations that the latter's spy agency, the ISI, regularly connives with the Haqqani network to attack western and allied forces in Afghanistan.
In a series of comments, the White House and the State Department seemed anxious to douse the flames, with President Barack Obama saying, “The intelligence [from Pakistan] is not as clear as we might like in terms of what exactly that relationship is.”
Further, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said that it was important to “appreciate their perspective about where we both are right now.”
However, she warned: “That in no way excuses the fact that they are making a serious, grievous, strategic error supporting these groups, because you think that you can keep a wild animal in the backyard and it will only go after your neighbour?”
Recalling the history of Pakistan's linkages with terror groups Ms. Clinton added, “They also have used groups in the past to support their ongoing conflict with India over Kashmir... and were trying to draw a distinction between the good terrorists and the bad terrorists.”
Following sharp comments last week by the erstwhile Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, who said that the Haqqani militants were a “veritable arm” of the ISI, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar pushed back strongly, warning the U.S. could “lose an ally” in the war against extremism.
Mr. Obama also adopted a softer tone on a radio talk show on Friday when he credited Pakistan with “outstanding cooperation in going after al-Qaeda” and vowed that Washington would remain firm with Islamabad on the safe haven issue.
Yet, he was firm on the need for action from the Pakistani side, saying, “My attitude is, whether there is active engagement with Haqqani on the part of the Pakistanis or rather just passively allowing them to operate with impunity in some of these border regions, they've got to take care of this problem.”
Mr. Obama, however, placed a question mark on Admiral Mullen's initial comments to the U.S. Congress, saying that in the testimony the Admiral had expressed “frustration” over the fact that safe havens existed, including for the Haqqani network, inside Pakistan.