Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton is leading a very high-level delegation to Pakistan later this week
to try one more time to set U.S.-Pakistan relations back on track, before they
go off the rails altogether.
The State Department won't confirm that Clinton is visiting
Pakistan as part of her tour this week, which we're told will include stops in
Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Oman. But two senior officials
have confirmed to The Cable that when
Clinton arrives in Pakistan (we'll keep dates secret for security reasons), she'll
be joined by CIA Director David Petraeus,
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin
Dempsey, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, and several other administration officials.
Pakistani media already
reported that the very senior U.S. delegation will have meetings with
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari,
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani,
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, and
Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez
Kayani. The trip was set up by the special representative for Pakistan and
Afghanistan, Marc Grossman, who was
in Islamabad last week.
"It's Hillary's initiative," one senior official
told The Cable. "This is what
Hillary convinced the administration to do because although the relationship
has been at its lowest in some years, the U.S. side doesn't want to pronounce
their effort to improve the U.S.-Pakistan relationship dead."
The Obama team had
been playing a game of "good
cop, bad cop" with the Pakistanis as a means of ratcheting up pressure,
following the uptick of attacks on Americans traced back to militant groups
residing in Pakistan. U.S. officials have stated publicly that these groups are
working with either the implicit or the explicit sanctioning of Pakistan's Inter-Services
"Hillary is trying to position herself in the middle
and say to Pakistan that there are those of us who want to engage and others
who want to fold. How long do you want to play this game of poker?" the
The mixture of threats and outreach coming from different
parts of the Obama administration had the side effect of confusing their
Pakistani interlocutors, according to experts. Now the administration wants to
put forth one clear message, delivered by top diplomats and top military and
intelligence officials all in the same room.
"The problem is still that different parts of the U.S.
government, as far as Pakistan is concerned, are giving different messages,"
said Shuja Nawaz, director of the
South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. "There needs to be a concise,
unified message from Washington as to what the intentions are. In terms of high-level
contact, we really haven't had that for a long while, so it's very critical."
The Obama administration is also trying to reprise the basic
idea of the now defunct U.S.-Pakistan
Strategic Dialogue, which was meant to improve coordination of policy
within both governments and also move the relationship from a "transactional"
to a "strategic" one.
Some top officials no longer believe that a "strategic"
relationship with Pakistan is possible, and around Washington, there is a
growing realization that U.S. and Pakistani long-term strategic interests may
not align, said Bruce Riedel, the
Brookings Institution scholar who led Obama's first review of
Afghanistan-Pakistan policy in 2009.
"We must recognize that the two countries' strategic
interests are in conflict, not harmony, and will remain that way as long as
Pakistan's army controls Pakistan's strategic policies," Riedel wrote in
an Oct. 15 New York Times op-ed.
"We must contain the Pakistani Army's ambitions until real civilian rule
returns and Pakistanis set a new direction for their foreign policy."
In an interview Monday, Riedel told The Cable that the administration should abandon its efforts to
seek help from the Pakistanis in bringing the Haqqani network and other
militant groups to the table for peace negotiations, especially after the
killing of former Afghan President Burhanuddin
Rabbani by the Pakistan-based Taliban leadership.
"Grossman's primary mission of trying to find political
reconciliation with the Taliban has been overtaken by events," Riedel said.
"When one party murders the leader on the other side, we pretty much have
an answer as to whether or not there's going to be a political reconciliation
The administration plans to warn the Pakistani government
about the turning tide of public opinion in Washington against Pakistan and congressional
threats to punish Pakistan. But if the Pakistanis don't change their approach
to these groups, it's unclear what sticks the administration could really use
against Pakistan to compel better behavior.
Overall, the Obama administration wants Pakistan to know it can't
accept Americans being killed because of what's happening inside Pakistan. But
there aren't expected to be any grand, new initiatives or new proposals to lift
bilateral relations from what all sides agree is the lowest point in years.
"The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has been deteriorating
all year, from the Raymond Davis case to the Osama bin Laden raid to the attack
on the American Embassy in Kabul," said Riedel. "And there's really
no evidence the bottom is in sight; it may be getting worse and worse."