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U.S. visit to target Pakistan's support of Afghan insurgents

| Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- In a rare display of muscle, the United States' top diplomat, senior-most military officer and its spy chief will arrive here today for a tense two-day visit that's likely to focus on U.S. accusations of Pakistani support for an Afghan insurgent group that the United States blames for thousands of deaths inside Afghanistan.

The atmosphere is poisonous between the two "allies," and there is little expectation that the visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and CIA Director David Petraeus, the former U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, will change that.

American officials provided few details of how they intend to approach their meetings here, but expectations are that the trio is coming armed with intelligence to substantiate U.S. allegations that the military-run Inter-Services Intelligence directorate spy agency is supporting the Haqqani network of insurgents. They're also expected to detail what the United States knows of the network's operations inside Pakistan.

U.S. officials also are likely to tell their Pakistani counterparts that if Pakistan does not do more to disrupt Haqqani operations, the United States will step up attacks on Afghan insurgents inside Pakistan by unmanned aerial drones and resort more quickly to retaliatory strikes by Afghanistan-based artillery on insurgents firing from Pakistan.

The visit will occur as the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan has begun a campaign in that country's eastern Khost province, which borders Pakistan's North Waziristan region, where the United States says the Haqqanis are based. Many in Pakistan fear the campaign could include forays by U.S.-led troops into Pakistan.

Last week, a drone strike in North Waziristan killed Jalil Kahn, a top aide to the son of the network's leader. The Pakistanis apparently were not told in advance of U.S. plans to launch the attack, which killed three other militants.

The Americans' entreaties are likely to be met with exasperation.

For Pakistan, a country reeling from terrorist attacks and a collapsing economy, the continual U.S. demand for it to "do more" is portrayed as blame-shifting to mask American failures in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, said during a briefing to parliamentarians that the United States should look to Afghanistan for the answers to its problems there, and not to Pakistan. Kayani also warned the United States against an operation on the soil of a nuclear-armed country.

"They (the U.S.) might do it, but they will have to think 10 times because Pakistan is not Iraq or Afghanistan," Kayani told the members of parliament's defense committees, according to Pakistani press reports that were confirmed by some of those who attended.

Pakistani analysts say that any hopes Pakistan will change its policy toward the Haqqanis are likely misplaced. Military officials here say Pakistan does not want to make enemies of yet another extremist group by attacking the Haqqanis, noting that the nation has lost more soldiers in the "war on terror" than has the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan.

Additionally, the Pakistanis still view the Haqqanis as their best chance to counterbalance what they see as worrisome influence in Afghanistan of Pakistan's archenemy, India. Pakistan's obsession with India, which this month signed a strategic agreement with Afghanistan that included aid to Afghan security forces, drives its Afghanistan policy.

Pakistani suspicions of U.S. intentions are colored also by what is seen here as the anti-Pakistan tone of foreign policy discussions in Washington.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who chaired President Obama's 2009 review of U.S. Afghan policy, called this month for a new policy of containment for Pakistan, saying that American and Pakistani strategic interests "are in conflict."

That was followed by a suggestion by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., that it could be time to ditch Pakistan and "forge a new alliance with the world's biggest democracy, India."

Still, some in Washington expect the meetings will win some grudging Pakistani concessions.

"They will accommodate parts," said Thomas Lynch, a South Asia expert with the National Defense University. "And they will wait and see how much more cross-border drone activity or artillery activity will follow their partial efforts to meet our demands."

Clinton also will hold a town hall-style meeting in Islamabad as part of her visit, attempting to reach out to Pakistanis beyond the officials she'll meet. Students and business people will be among those invited, and she will take questions.

For all the rancor and talk of opposing interests, some believe that at their core, Pakistani and American aims in Afghanistan are roughly the same. Both countries want peace and stability, said Shahzad Chaudhry, a retired vice marshal in the Pakistani air force -- Pakistan, so that Afghanistan is not a threat, and the United States, so that it can exit from a decade-long war.

"The U.S. has short-term aims, to find a face-saving way to walk away from Afghanistan," Chaudhry said. "For us, it is a matter of survival."

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