ISLAMABAD // The United States pressed a hard case with a difficult ally during two-day diplomatic offensive in Pakistan. It warned Pakistan to dismantle the militant Taliban safe havens in the country's north-west and asked for its assistance in bringing those militants who are willing to lay down their arms to the peace negotiations in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is unlikely to do either to US satisfaction, leaving a critical counterterrorism partnership on uncertain terms.
"For too long, extremists have been able to operate here in Pakistan and from Pakistani soil," Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Friday at a joint news conference with Hina Rabbani Khar, the Pakistani foreign minister.
"No one who targets innocent civilians, whether they be Pakistanis, Afghans, Americans or anyone else should be tolerated or protected."
The US has long urged Pakistan to launch a military operation in the North Waziristan tribal region. It is home to the Haqqani network, the Afghan insurgents who have mounted attacks on American forces inside Afghanistan and operate from both sides of the porous border.
In statement in September, Admiral Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, termed the Haqqani network a "veritable army of the ISI", the Pakistani intelligence agency.
Ms Clinton described the militant group as a threat to both sides of the border. "We asked very specifically for greater cooperation from the Pakistani side to squeeze the Haqqani network," she said. "You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours."
But Ms Kahr insisted that Pakistan and the US shared the same goal.
"There is no question of any support by any Pakistani institution to safe havens in Pakistan" for militants of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, Ms Khar said. "Let me be unequivocal and completely clear about that."
Ms Clinton arrived in the capital late last week with David Petraeus, the director of Central Intelligence Agency, and General Martin Dempsy, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The unusually strong delegation was aimed at sending a signal to the Pakistanis that there was unity among the US policymakers.
"The United States is looking for the Pakistani military to weaken the Haqqani network ... and also bring the group to the bargaining table," said Arif Rafiq, an analyst based in Washington.
Pakistan's top army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and its intelligence chief, Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, have both resisted American pressure to launch a military operation in North Waziristan.
Privately, Pakistani officials complain about the way US conducts its diplomacy. "There will be always a very limited scope of cooperation with the US," said a senior Pakistani military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Because of the anti-American sentiment on the street, the religious right and the radicals".
"The US diatribe limits and constrains this limited scope even further, making it very difficult for us to operate," the official said.
An example of Pakistani exasperation was reflected in a town hall meeting on Saturday when Ms Clinton invited questions from a selected group of Pakistanis.
"Somehow, the US is like a mother-in-law", said a Pakistani woman, drawing a loud applause and laughter. "We are trying to please you and every time you visit us, you tell us, 'you are not doing enough and need to work harder'."
With such a difference in public and official perceptions, some observers say that both US and Pakistan need to show more flexibility and tone down rhetoric.
"The fact is that Pakistan will not act against the safe haven of the Haqqanis, full stop. Both the US and Pakistan cannot prolong the current contest of who blinks first", stated the Saturday editorial of The Express Tribune, a Karachi-based English daily. "A middle ground of continued dialogue and cooperation must be found."
* With additional reporting by Associated Press