US urges Pakistan to understand ‘gravity’ of situation

By Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON, Dec 20: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both in public statements and private meetings, has urged Pakistan to understand the gravity of the current situation and take immediate steps to stop terrorists from using its soil for attacking others.

In a speech at Washington’s Council on Foreign Relations, Ms Rice said what Pakistan had done so far to catch those responsible for last month’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai was not enough.

“You need to deal with the terrorism problem,” said the top US diplomat when asked what her message was to Pakistan. “And it’s not enough to say these are non-state actors. If they’re operating from Pakistani territory, then they have to be dealt with.”

The civilian government in Pakistan, she said, was “very much in charge” and thus far had taken some positive steps but “they’re not nearly enough to this point.”

According to US and diplomatic sources a much stronger message was conveyed to Pakistan at a meeting Ms Rice had with Islamabad’s national security adviser, Mahmud Ali Durrani.

Mr Durrani, who was in Washington this week for security talks with US officials, also met his US counterpart Stephen Hadley at the White House.

The Pakistani team, which included Ambassador Husain Haqqani, learned from both Mr Hadley and Ms Rice that the Americans were not satisfied with what Pakistan had done so far for eradicating terrorism from its soil.

Diplomatic sources in Washington described the meetings as a follow-up of Secretary Rice’s visit to Islamabad earlier this month when she used her influence to prevent the Mumbai incident from leading to an armed conflict between South Asia’s two nuclear powers.

Since then, the United States and Britain have stayed engage with both India and Pakistan to encourage them to resolve the current crisis peacefully.

“The curt message that Mr Durrani and the Pakistani team received from the Americans was: this is not 2002 and you cannot do what President Musharraf did after 9/11,” said a senior diplomatic source familiar with the talks. “In the past, you swept everything under the carpet while the problems were allowed to fester. No more.”

The Americans, according to these sources, told the Pakistanis that the Mumbai attack was no ordinary event and the tendency in Pakistan to deal with this as a minor incident was going to hurt the country.

The Americans insisted that they had enough evidence to prove that Lashkar-e-Tayaba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa were involved in the Mumbai attacks and they wanted concrete action against all such groups, the sources said.

“They told the Pakistanis to understand the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of the evidence that exists to Pakistan’s links to this event,” said one such source.

“The message the Americans gave was: this is the third time, we are saying such a thing. We may not be able to bail you out the fourth time,” the source said. “Global terrorism is not just an India-Pakistan dispute. We see LeT and Jamaat-ud-Dawa at par with Al Qaeda. Pakistan should stop thinking of this as just another round of India-Pakistan altercations.”

Ms Rice’s speech at the Council on Foreign Relations was not as grave as the message conveyed privately to Mr Durrani and those accompanying him but she did tell the Pakistanis that they need to cooperate with India to defuse tensions with their larger neighbour.

Ms Rice said after the Mumbai attack “it was obviously a very serious situation and the president (George Bush) wanted me to go and to express our solidarity with India and condolences there.”

The top US diplomat said she had to also “deliver a very strong message that, of course, Americans had also died in that attack. And so this was also of concern to the United States.”

Ms Rice, however, hoped that India and Pakistan could overcome this crisis. “If Pakistan continues to work to really deal with the terrorism problem, and if India can do the hard work of both helping to bring the perpetrators to justice and trying to prevent the next attack, then I think we can get through this crisis,” she said.

Secretary Rice said she “didn't hear a different line from the military and from the civilians” when she discussed the need to fight terrorism with them.

“In fact, I heard from the military that they want the civilian government to succeed. They recognise that the civilian government has to, therefore, be the responsible entity for Pakistan. And I'm certain that there are and will be civil-military tension,” she added.