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Updated: October 29, 2009 03:23 IST

Hillary in Pakistan to boost U.S. image

Nirupama Subramanian
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on Wednesday. Offering sympathy for victims of Wednesday's terrorist bombing, Clinton pledged U.S. support at a critical point in the country's history.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on Wednesday. Offering sympathy for victims of Wednesday's terrorist bombing, Clinton pledged U.S. support at a critical point in the country's history.

Addressing the rising tide of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday she was going to make an effort "to speak directly" to the Pakistani people to remove the misunderstandings and misperceptions in the relations between the two countries.

Ms. Clinton, who arrived this morning for a three-day visit after months of controversy over the increasing U.S. presence in Pakistan, including the rumoured deployment of an American private security firm that sparked fears of espionage and conspiracy theories about a plan to take over the country's nuclear assets.

The debate on the Kerry-Lugar Bill came on top of all this.

The visit, billed as Ms. Clinton's "most important" overseas tour since she took office, is clearly an attempt at building bridges with an important ally with which relations have recently been marked mainly by distrust and suspicion despite the massive amounts of money the U.S. is pouring in for both military and non-military purposes.

On Day One, Ms. Clinton met with the civilian leadership, including President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

At a joint press conference with Mr. Qureshi, Ms. Clinton stressed that the U.S. wanted to "turn the page to a new partnership not only with the government but the people" of Pakistan.

"The partnership between our countries is not limited to the halls of government. In democracies, there has to be a partnership between the people and that is what I'm aiming to foster," she said.

One of the elements of the U.S. strategy to win hearts and minds is to help Pakistan tackle its energy crisis, and Ms. Clinton spoke passionately about this, announcing the first phase of a "signature energy programme" aimed at improving the efficiency of local energy providers, through repair, upgrading and provision of key equipment.

The U.S. will also help Pakistan build power stations at Tarbela, besides upgrading of 10,000 tubewells across to make them energy efficient, helping to increase the efficiency of its power plants, equipment and delivery systems.

But this kind of assistance might fall far-short of continuing Pakistani expectations that it should get a civilian nuclear deal similar to the Indo-U.S. one to tide over the country's crippling energy shortage.

"India gets a civil nuclear deal, Pakistan gets tubewells," was the tart comment of an unimpressed Pakistani journalist coming out of the press conference.

Ms. Clinton's visit will be remembered most for the extraordinary security measures that both the Americans and the host country have put in place for her protection in the face of increasingly brazen attacks by Taliban militants across the country.

Even the date of the visit was a closely guarded secret until the last few hours of her arrival and reporters travelling with her said the security drill was of a scale they had not seen before.

Ms. Clinton is staying in the secure embryo of the U.S. embassy in the Diplomatic Enclave that houses over 80 other foreign missions, while some of her entourage are in the nearby Serena Hotel.

The entire area called the Red Zone, covering the Diplomatic Enclave and other important government buildings - the Presidency, the Prime Minister's office, the Foreign Office, the Supreme Court and the National Assembly and a host of other office - was virtually sealed off for the public.

At the Foreign Office, where Ms. Clinton addressed a press conference with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, staff and officials not connected to the visit were asked to take the day off.

The security measures are so severe and involve such long waits for security clearances for those attending the events that it has put off some invitees to her "town hall" meeting in the capital on Friday.

Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc., an acclaimed book on the Pakistan military, said she had been asked to report at 9 a.m. for a 12.30 p.m. function at which Ms. Clinton would interact with prominent Pakistani women. "I turned down the invitation because I don't have three hours to spare," she said.

A well-known television anchor, invited to a 6.30 p.m. dinner event on Friday, said she had been asked to report at the U.S. embassy at 1.30 p.m., and was forced to turn down the invitation for this reason alone.

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