On the last day of her three-day visit to Pakistan, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charged on with her drive to win friends in this country even though the smiley mask slipped briefly to reveal America’s deepest, darkest fears about Pakistan.
In comments that are being viewed as undiplomatic and rare from such a high official who has lavished nothing but praise in public for the Pakistan government and its Army, Ms. Clinton suggested during an interaction with journalists in Lahore on Thursday that Pakistan was not doing as much as possible to go after Al-Qaeda leaders present in safe havens in its territory.
“Al-Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002,” she said. “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to. Maybe that’s the case; maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.”
There has been no official reaction to Ms. Clinton’s statement yet. But in further public interactions on Friday, she tempered her comments somewhat.
“What I said was I don’t know if anyone knows but we in the U.S. would very much like to see the end of the Al-Qaeda leadership. And our best information is that they are somewhere in Pakistan, and it would be in Pakistan’s interests and our own to capture or kill Al-Qaeda leaders,” she said.
Ms. Clinton said the priority for Pakistan was to go after militants targeting Pakistani territory and people but when these operations were done, “the Pakistan military will have to go on to root out other terrorist groups or we are going to be back facing the same threats”.
The comments came during a gathering of women in a “town hall” style public meeting in the capital on Friday, similar to the one with students in Lahore on Thursday.
Four top women anchors from Pakistani television channels quizzed her on stage while an audience of a couple of hundred women threw questions from the floor. Ms. Clinton spent most of her time defending the U.S. from one accusation or the other, and it was no different on her last day.
“Look Madam Secretary, we are fighting a war that is imposed on us, that is not our war, it is your war and we are fighting it,” said Asma Shirazi of ARY channel, to much applause from the audience. “You had one 9/11 and we are having daily 9/11s”.
Sana Bucha of Geo TV said the U.S. did not understand Pakistan’s fears of India and that unless the India-Pakistan issue was sorted out, Pakistan would “not be sorted out”.
Ms. Clinton’s response was the same as the one to students in Lahore on Thursday: the U.S. will not dictate solutions to the issues between the two countries, “because that would not last a minute”, but encourages both to go back to the composite dialogue process. Peaceful relations with India, she said, would present Pakistan with economic opportunities.
A woman in the audience asked her why the U.S. had “bent the rules” to give India a nuclear programme. While another asked her to define terrorism.
Ms. Clinton was to fly out of Pakistan later in the day. But undeterred by the wall of suspicion about she encountered here, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad will continue her fence-mending drive — through Facebook. The Embassy announced on Friday through a cheerful email that it had launched itself on the social networking site, and invited people to “MEET US ON FACEBOOK!”