The Obama administration delivered a blunt warning Thursday that the United States will do what it must to go after militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan, regardless of whether Pakistan helps.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton led an unusually large U.S. delegation for two days of talks with civilian and military leaders who have resisted previous U.S. demands to take a harder tack against militants attacking American soldiers and interests in Afghanistan.
The large U.S. contingent was meant to show unity among the various U.S. agencies with an interest in Pakistan, including the CIA, Pentagon and State Department. CIA chief David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey joined Clinton, who said the team would "push Pakistan very hard."
The U.S. and Pakistani delegations gathered at the office of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as the first of two evening meetings began. Pakistan's foreign minister, Army chief and intelligence head were expected to see their U.S. counterparts Thursday.
Clinton arrived in Islamabad from Afghanistan, where she said Pakistan must be part of the solution to the Afghan conflict. She said the U.S. expects the Pakistani government, military and intelligence services to take the lead in fighting Pakistan-based militants and in encouraging Afghan militants to reconcile.
"Our message is very clear," Clinton said. "We're going to be fighting, we are going to be talking and we are going to be building and they can either be helping or hindering, but we are not going to stop."
The meetings focused on the continuing U.S. demand that Pakistan launch its own offensive against a lethal Taliban affiliate known as the Haqqani network, which operates on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. U.S. officials claim Pakistan either tolerates or supports the group's activities.
A senior U.S. official said Thursday's four hours of meetings were "extremely frank" and "very detailed" but declined to offer details.
In a statement, Gilani's office said the discussion was "cordial and frank." But it also denied U.S. allegations of links between Pakistan and militants.
"Disagreements between the coalition partners in the war on terror should not undermine a strategic relationship which is so vital for the promotion of mutual interests of the two countries," the statement said.
U.S. military leaders have told the Pakistanis that if Islamabad does not act against the Haqqanis, the U.S. will.
"We must send a clear, unequivocal message to the government and people of Pakistan that they must be part of the solution, and that means ridding their own country of terrorists who kill their own people and who cross the border to kill people in Afghanistan," Clinton said.
Pakistan has deployed 170,000 soldiers to its eastern border with Afghanistan, and more than 3,000 soldiers have died in battles with militants.
So Pakistani leaders bristle at U.S. criticism that they have not done enough or that they play a double game -- fighting militants in some areas, supporting them in others where they might be useful proxies in a future conflict with India.
A new offensive unleashed in recent days by the U.S.-led coalition against the Haqqani network in Afghanistan has added a sense of urgency to the talks in Pakistan.