US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday that Pakistan urgently needed to take decisive steps against Islamist militancy and that relations between the two allies, tense since the killing of late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, had reached a turning point.
Clinton, the most senior US official to visit Pakistan since US Navy SEALS killed bin Laden this month, appeared to be trying to smooth over strains, repeating that there was no evidence that any senior Pakistani officials knew bin Laden’s whereabouts.
However, she also said she had asked Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and Pakistani Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani to do more to fight militants.
“This was an especially important visit because we have reached a turning point,” Clinton told reporters, after meeting the Pakistani officials with US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. “We look to Pakistan, to the government of Pakistan to take decisive steps in the days ahead. America cannot and should not solve Pakistan’s problems, but in solving its problems, Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make problems disappear.”
The discovery of the al-Qaeda leader in a garrison town just 50km away from Islamabad, on May 2 raised fresh doubts about Pakistan’s reliability as a partner in the US-led war on militancy.
Clinton said Pakistani officials had told her “someone, somewhere” had been providing support for bin Laden in Pakistan, but reiterated there was no evidence of any sort of complicity by senior government officials.
Clinton has emphasized the need to continue working closely with Pakistan, but her visit to Islamabad, kept secret for security reasons, came as US lawmakers questioned whether Pakistan should be receiving billions of dollars in aid.
The Pakistan government welcomed the death of bin Laden, but was outraged and embarrassed by the secret raid in the town of Abbottabad, where bin Laden had lived for years, as a breach of its sovereignty.
It was the latest in a series of incidents, from US drone attacks inside Pakistan to the arrest of a CIA contractor for killing two Pakistanis, that have strained ties.
“This particular relationship with Pakistan is too critical and now is too critical a time to allow whatever differences we may still have with one another to impede the progress we must still make together,” Mullen told the news conference.
“I harbor no illusions about the difficulties ahead, nor do I leave here misinformed about the trust which still needs to be rebuilt between our two militaries,” he said.
There has also been scant evidence of Islamist militancy abating despite billions of dollars in US aid.
On Thursday, a suicide car bomber killed 34 people outside a police station in the northwestern town of Hangu, and last weekend a group of militants stormed a heavily guarded naval base in the city of Karachi and fought a 16-hour battle with hundreds of soldiers.
The attacks have raised fresh doubts about Pakistan’s ability to quell militancy and protect its nuclear arsenal.