US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday unveiled a series of development projects for Pakistan on the second day of her visit to the country, as part of what she termed an effort to “expand the dialogue beyond security.”
Speaking at a town-hall-style meeting in the capital on Monday, Mrs. Clinton announced the construction of two hydroelectric dam projects that will supply power to more than 300,000 people near the Afghan border, an overhaul of the municipal water supply of Peshawar and southern Punjab, and the renovation or construction of three new hospitals in Pakistan’s metropolitan cities of Lahore and Karachi.
The projects are to be funded under US legislation passed last year that increased civilian aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over five years. They are part of a broader move to quell anti-Americanism by convincing Pakistanis that the US has a deeper commitment to the country, a key ally in the war in Afghanistan.
A day earlier, Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced a landmark trade deal between Afghanistan and Pakistan that will allow Afghanistan to use Pakistan’s land border to export to India, while giving Pakistan land access to Central Asia via Afghanistan.
“We know that there is a perception held by too many Pakistanis that America's commitment to them begins and ends with security,” said Clinton. "But security is just one piece of this vital partnership.
"We share with Pakistan a vision of a future in which all people can live safe, healthy, and productive lives; contribute to their communities; and make the most of their own God-given potential."
Clinton likes Pakistani mangoes
During the meeting, Clinton fielded a number of questions from business leaders and aid contractors, promising to enhance market access in the United States for Pakistani businesses, particularly the export of Pakistani mangoes for which she expressed a particular fondness.
The mood was generally upbeat in contrast to Clinton’s last visit to Pakistan in October, when her attempts at personal-level diplomacy largely fell flat.
“It’s a good sign and these discussions help move things along,” says businessman Sameer Qadir, who was told by Clinton that the US would consider looking at broader nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, along the lines that the US granted India in 2005. “We’ve already teed up our team of experts which must meet with their Pakistani counterparts,” she said, before cautioning that Pakistan must do more to clear its name as a nuclear proliferator.
To a question by a female audience member on whether the US would do more to foster sports for young people especially woman, Clinton pledged to look at greater assistance before remarking, “I’m old enough to remember when women didn’t have those opportunities in the States” and recalling the struggle to enact Title IX, which prevents gender discrimination in US education programs.
Clinton elicited laughs for telling a Kashmiri schoolteacher, who had urged Clinton to press India to resolve the decades-old dispute between India and Pakistan: “I’ll get to that before breakfast tomorrow.”
What about the Haqqani network?
“It’s always good to be able to give them an idea of our needs. The [Pakistani] media needs to now come on board and stop blaming the US for all our problems,” says Dr Ayesha Khan, an official in Pakistan’s Ministry of Health.
Later, at a roundtable discussion with Pakistani TV journalists, moderator Moeed Pirzada asked whether Clinton was bored by the fact that this time around, “hardly anyone is talking about Blackwater [a private security firm accused by some Pakistanis of carrying out terror attacks], or the US running away with Pakistan’s nukes.”
“Boring is good,” she quipped.
Some analysts caution that for all the feel-good talk and the softer rhetoric, US-Pakistan relations will remain dominated by the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s unwillingness to crack down on terror groups like the Haqqani network, which is widely believed to be fostered by the Pakistani security establishment.
“The money from the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill will keep coming but it may not come to the extent Pakistan hopes if Pakistan cannot get its act together,” says Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-daily.