Clinton: Hard to believe Pakistan can't find Al Qaeda
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's blunt comments about Al Qaeda havens during her trip to Pakistan have raised eyebrows.
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The Times of India reports that during a press conference with Pakistani reporters, Mrs. Clinton noted that Al Qaeda has been hiding in Pakistan since 2002, and said she found it "hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to."
After having publicly doubted the bona fides of her hosts, she added, as an afterthought: "Maybe that's the case; maybe they're not gettable.... I don't know. As far as we know, they are in Pakistan." At one point during the exchanges, when a journalist spoke about all the services rendered by Pakistan for the US, Mrs Clinton snapped, "We have also given you billions."
The US Secretary of State also took a swipe at the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies, telling the senior journalists, "If we are going to have a mature partnership where we work together," then "there are issues that not just the United States but others have with your government and with your military security establishment." She said she was "more than willing to hear every complaint about the United States,'' but the relationship had to be a "two-way street."
Clinton's comments are particularly noteworthy because her visit to Pakistan was meant to be a "fence-mending tour," the Los Angeles Times writes, and Pakistan is currently engaged in a military campaign against Taliban forces in South Waziristan.
Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations said he was surprised that Clinton would raise the issue of Pakistan's efforts on Al Qaeda, given the current fragility of the civilian government.
"It seems like an odd time to come in and send this one across the bow," said Markey, a former State Department official just returned from a trip to Pakistan. ...
A Pakistani official predicted that Clinton's comments would make some people in Pakistan angry, "some perhaps violently so." But he said that in his view, Clinton's candor was a sign that the relationship was maturing.
The Los Angeles Times also cites a US official who said that Clinton's statements were not prepared statements, but rather reflected her own heartfelt concerns about Al Qaeda and Pakistan. "You've got to remember, she was a senator from New York on 9/11," the official told the Times.
Clinton's concerns were underscored by reports that Pakistani forces in South Waziristan have found documents, including a German passport, believed to belong to Said Bahaji, an associate of 9/11 terrorist Mohammed Atta. The New York Times reports that Mr. Bahaji, who US officials believe is a senior propagandist for Al Qaeda, was a member of the German terrorist cell that helped plan the 9/11 attacks, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. The report describes Bahaji as "an insecure follower with no personality and with limited knowledge of Islam," and says that he was not a central plotter of the 9/11 attacks.
During her Pakistan tour, Clinton also attended "an intense give-and-take" with students at the Government College of Lahore, reports PakTribune. The students had criticized the relationship between the US and Pakistan, and one complained that the US was forcing Pakistan to fight the Taliban in its sovereign territory.
Clinton likened Pakistan's situation with Taliban forces to a theoretical advance of terrorists into the United States from across the Canadian border.
It would be unthinkable, she said, for the US government to decide "let them have Washington (state)" first, then Montana, then the sparsely populated Dakotas, because those states are far from the major centres of population and power on the East Coast....
Clinton urged Pakistan's youth to stand firm against the forces of religious extremism, saying it threatened everything that both Americans and Pakistanis hold dear. She said, "Though the terror war is being fought on your (Pakistan) land, but it is not Pakistan's war alone; Pakistan is fighting on the front and the US stands by it." She observed if peace was restored between Pakistan and India and their mutual disputes were resolved, Pakistan would take off as a rocket in terms of economic development.