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ANALYSIS - U.S. hunt for Haqqani nightmare for Pakistan
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The United States will push Pakistan hard to take the risky move of going after the Haqqani militant network if the group is linked to a Jordanian who killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan.
No evidence may emerge that the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network -- high on the CIA's hitlist -- provided any support for the suspected suicide bomber from its northwestern Pakistani stronghold on the border with Afghanistan.
But the slightest suspicion that the Afghan group merely showed him hospitality in its redoubts will undoubtedly lead to a far higher degree of U.S. pressure on Pakistan to take out the Haqqani network, possibly straining ties between the allies.
Islamabad has resisted past relentless Washington pressure to dismantle the network headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani, allied with the Taliban and believed to be closely linked to al Qaeda and the architect of several high-profile attacks in Afghanistan.
Pakistan sees Haqqani -- who had long-standing links with its military ISI spy agency -- as likely to be a valuable asset in Afghanistan if U.S. troops leave, as Islamabad anticipates, before the country is stabilised.
And Pakistan officials, facing the country's own growing Taliban insurgency, argue Haqqani has not attacked the Pakistani state. So he should be left alone.
After the huge blow to the CIA, however, Washington is more likely to dismiss Pakistan's strategic concerns and push the government harder to take out Haqqani as the United States prepares to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
"The CIA never suffered such big losses. They will not only take revenge locally, they will put pressure on Pakistan to take action against this group," said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist and expert on militant affairs.
Investigators were exploring leads, including possible links between the bomber, a Jordanian recruited by Jordanian intelligence to try to infiltrate al Qaeda, and Haqqani's network, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.
Haqqani's followers and their Taliban allies have carried out numerous attacks with a growing degree of sophistication in Khost province, where the bombing at the Forward Operating Base Chapman took place.
American and Pakistani interests have always been difficult to balance. Critics say the United States see Pakistan as a front-line state in its war on terror and expects it to give in to every demand, despite high domestic political costs.
Pakistan says it has done more than any other country to end terrorism and its people have suffered the most.
Greater U.S. expectations would be politically explosive. Anti-American sentiment is running high, in large part because of U.S. pilotless drone aircraft attacks on militants in Pakistan.
Deeply unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari is in no position to manage any new political crises sparked by what many Pakistanis would view as interference if Americans made a strong push for more Pakistani cooperation on Haqqani.
Zardari is already in a vulnerable position. Some of his aides, including the defence and interior ministers, may face prosecution under revived corruption charges.
The United States might overlook these potentially explosive issues as it scrambles to hunt down whoever may have been behind the suicide bombing attack on a vital CIA operation.
Already there have been an unusually high number of drone strikes since the CIA incident.
Washington may decide -- with or without Pakistan's consent -- to intensify the drone hits in North Waziristan, where Haqqani operates and which is a Pashtun tribal region seen as a hub for global militants.
But that could hurt Pakistan's fight against its own Taliban insurgents, who are extending their reach in the country and have killed hundreds of people in bombings since October.
"It should be remembered that the war against the Pakistani Taliban includes ceasefires with various Pakistani tribal leaders who are resident in North Waziristan," said Ahmed Rashid, an author of books on the Taliban.
"And Pakistan will be very nervous about U.S. drone strikes that would not just hit Haqqani but hit these tribal leaders."
The United States is well aware of Haqqani's capabilities.
He rose to prominence during the 1980s, receiving weapons and funds from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to fight Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan. Effective leadership of the group has passed from the ailing Jalaluddin, who is in his 70s, to his eldest son Sirajuddin, security analysts say.
Stepping up the drone attacks could be risky for the United States, not just Pakistan. Al Qaeda's Afghan wing claimed last week's attack at the U.S. base. It said it was to avenge the deaths of militant leaders, including Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistan Taliban, who were killed in drone strikes.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jerry Norton)
(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here)
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