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Clinton warns of tough action if Afghan militants don't cooperate

 Reuters 21 October 2019

Hilary Clinton has warned Afghan Militants of tough consequences at a press conference this week, if they refuse to cooperate with the Afghan authorities. (878 Words) - By Andrew Quinn and Augustine Anthony

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Reuters_Clinton warns of tough action if Afghan militants don't cooperate

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens to a question during a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. Photo by: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Friday that stern action would have to be taken against militants if they did not cooperate in efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and pursue peace.

Such efforts would focus on getting the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, involved, Clinton said in the Pakistani capital.

"Now we have to turn our attention here on the Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, Haqqani and other terrorist groups and try to get them into a peace process," Clinton told a news conference in Islamabad.

"But if that failed, prevent them from committing more violence and murdering more innocent people," she said.

Pakistan is seen as critical to the U.S. drive to end the conflict in Afghanistan, but it is often an uneasy relationship.

On Thursday, Clinton and top U.S. military and intelligence officials delivered a tough message to Pakistani leaders to crack down on militants, especially groups like the Haqqanis that are blamed for attacks on American targets in Afghanistan.

Pressure on Pakistan has been mounting since U.S. special forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in May in a Pakistani town, where he had apparently been living for years.

The secret raid caused the worst damage to relations between the allies since Pakistan joined the U.S. war on militancy after the September 11, 2019, attacks on the United States.

Pakistan's military said the raid was a flagrant violation of sovereignty, while in Washington U.S. officials wondered whether an ally that receives billions of dollars in American aid had been sheltering the world's most wanted man.

Pakistan denied any links to bin Laden and says it has sacrificed more than any country supporting the U.S. "war on terror."

In a news conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Clinton said she urged Pakistan to cooperate more on the issue of the Haqqani network, which Washington believes is based in North Waziristan near the Afghan border.

"SNAKES"

Admiral Mike Mullen said before retiring as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff last month that the Haqqanis were a "veritable arm" of Pakistani intelligence, infuriating Islamabad.

"We asked very specifically for greater cooperation from the Pakistani side to squeeze the Haqqani network and other terrorists because we know that trying to eliminate terrorists and safe havens on one side of the border is not going to work," said Clinton.

"You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours," she said.

Friday's joint news conference came a day after what had been described as "extremely frank" discussions Clinton and a heavyweight team of U.S. officials held with their Pakistani counterparts.

The mood seemed less tense on Friday. Clinton and Khar were frank about both sides' concerns but also appeared to try to project a message of cooperation after months of bumpy ties.

"It seems they are making an effort, a genuine effort to improve the relations," said political analyst Talat Masood.

"To what extent they succeed, we can't tell now. There seems to be desire on both side is to improve the relationship."

The Haqqani group, which says it left sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan, has emerged as the most high-profile threat to American interests in the region since bin Laden's death and has been the main driver of U.S.-Pakistan tensions.

Analysts say Pakistan sees the Haqqanis as a lever in Afghanistan, where its rival India is vying for influence.

Clinton said Washington and Islamabad would work together.

She appeared to put more emphasis on Pakistan as a potential peacemaker in Afghanistan, instead of focussing on its failure to eliminate militancy in the border area, which U.S. President Barack Obama has called the most dangerous place in the world.

"Coalition and Afghan forces are increasing the pressure on the Taliban in Afghanistan," she said.

"And across the border, we look to Pakistan to take strong steps to deny Afghan insurgents safe havens and to encourage Taliban to enter negotiations in good faith."

Khar said: "Let me reconfirm that there is no question of any support by any Pakistani institutions to safe havens in Pakistan. Let me be unequivocal, completely clear on that."

Pakistan has long argued that it can't go after the Haqqanis because the army has its hands full with homegrown Taliban militants, the biggest threat to the nuclear-armed nation.

It has to contend with people like Maulvi Fazlullah, an Afghanistan-based Taliban leader who has vowed to return home to wage war against the government again after melting away during an army offensive in 2009.

Fazlullah re-emerged as a threat in recent months when his fighters took part in cross-border raids that killed around 100 Pakistani security forces.

In answering questions submitted by Reuters, Fazlullah's close aide Sirajuddin Ahmad Fazlullah would fight the Pakistani state, and then take on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistani leaders must always tread cautiously because anti-U.S. sentiments run high in Pakistan.

Many Pakistanis are angered by U.S. drone strikes against militants in the northwest, and say the country's army is fighting a war based on American interests.

About 90 people staged a protest in the eastern town of Multan against Clinton's visit, burning effigies of her and U.S. flags. Some shouted "Go, Hillary, go" and "Stop drone attacks."

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