Clinton defends outreach to Taliban-linked Haqqani

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said bluntly Thursday that U.S. outreach to gauge the Taliban-linked Haqqani network’s interest in peace talks after more than a decade of war was answered with “an attack on our embassy” in Afghanistan.

Testifying before skeptical members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Clinton defended the apparent contradiction of U.S. pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqani group, considered a major threat to American forces in Afghanistan, and efforts to engage elements of the network for possible negotiations.

The Obama administration sees a peace deal with the Taliban as critical to ending the war in Afghanistan, now in its 11th year. Clinton described how the attempt at outreach was largely futile.

“This was done in part because I think the Pakistanis hope to be able to move the Haqqani network toward some kind of peace negotiation, and the answer was an attack on our embassy,” Clinton told the committee.

Clinton said Pakistan’s intelligence agency asked U.S. officials to meet with a representative of the Haqqani network. Clinton recently confirmed the summer meeting, first reported by the Associated Press.

Then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told Congress last month the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaida, “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Mullen accused the network of staging an attack against the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul on Sept. 13 as well as a truck bombing that wounded 77 American soldiers. He claimed Pakistan’s spy agency helped the group.

“These events raise very serious questions about Pakistan’s commitment to work with us to defeat the terrorists that threaten Pakistan, and U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan,” said Rep. Howard Berman of California, the top Democrat on the committee. “This behavior must stop.”

The U.S. relationship with Pakistan has reached a low point, due in part to the U.S. raid deep inside Pakistan last May to kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and to American complaints about Islamabad’s unwillingness to crack down on terrorism. Lawmakers have challenged the Obama administration’s request for U.S. taxpayer dollars to aid Pakistan, imposing conditions on financial assistance in various spending bills.

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