The Cable

Failed Times Square bombing raises U.S.-Pakistan tensions

Watch CBS News Videos Online Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised a few eyebrows last weekend when she said on CBS’s 60 Minutes that there would have been "very severe consequences" had Faisal Shahzad’s Nissan Pathfinder successfully exploded in New York’s Times Square, pointing to new information linking Pakistani groups to the failed attack. Clinton ...

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised a few eyebrows last weekend when she said on CBS’s 60 Minutes that there would have been "very severe consequences" had Faisal Shahzad’s Nissan Pathfinder successfully exploded in New York’s Times Square, pointing to new information linking Pakistani groups to the failed attack.

Clinton did say the United States has "gotten more cooperation" from Pakistan, citing a "sea change in the commitment we’ve seen from the Pakistani government." But, she stressed, "We expect more."

Her mention of "consequences" got wide play in Islamabad, where the remark was interpreted as a clear warning to Pakistan, which has long been accused of coddling terrorists to use in its decades-long proxy conflict with its arch-enemy, India. And it reportedly angered Pakistan’s powerful military, which saw a U.S. attempt to pressure it to crack down on jihadi groups on a timetable set in Washington.

U.S. officials have since spun or walked back Clinton’s comment, but the secretary’s remark was no gaffe. In private communications, the Obama administration is making it clear that the Times Square bombing attempt was a warning and that if Pakistan doesn’t speed up progress on several U.S. requests, the next Pakistan-linked terror attack will result in real consequences for the relationship.

"The U.S. is telling Pakistan: ‘You have a bigger problem, if one thing goes through, the momentum could shift and public opinion in the United States could demand more action,’" according to a high-level diplomatic source with direct knowledge of communications between the two governments.

Among the U.S. demands are allowing more U.S. personnel to participate on the ground in Pakistan, stopping the delays of visas for American officials, and removing obstacles to operations in Pakistan that originate in Pakistan. The U.S. side also wants Pakistan to give up any information it is holding back related to the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups that pose an international or cross-border threat.

Pakistan has pledged to do all those things as part of a deal for increased military assistance that was hashed out during the recent U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue. But that deal is still being ironed out and "the American attitude toward Pakistan is, ‘We really need you to speed up things,’" our source said.

What’s the Pakistan’s government attitude? "We do it our way, not your way."

There’s also a concern in Pakistan that the Obama administration could take punitive measures in the wake of the Times Square incident, such as singling out travelers from Pakistan for heightened scrutiny or adding new visa restrictions.

"That’s not the best way to make friends. There should be some serious thinking about how not to overreact," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.

After the Christmas Day underwear bomber incident, Pakistan was added to a list of 14 countries subject to more stringent screening procedures, causing a huge backlash in Pakistan and forcing the government to come out in public and decry the procedures.

So expect any tightening of security to happen very quietly, to avoid creating the impression that Americans view all Pakistanis as dangerous.

"If the security issue affects their ability to govern and provide services to their population, it will create even more problems," Nawaz said.

Perhaps reflecting the pushback from Pakistan, President Obama signaled patience Wednesday, saying, "I think what you’ve seen over the last several months is a growing recognition that they have a cancer in their midst."

"Part of what I’ve been encouraged by is Pakistan’s willingness to start asserting more control over some of these areas," he said, referring to the country’s militant-infested frontier areas like North Waziristan, where Shahzad is thought to have trained. "But it’s not going to happen overnight. And they have been taking enormous casualties; the Pakistani military has been going in fairly aggressively. But this will be an ongoing project."

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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