- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

UPDATED:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday lauded a military offensive by Pakistan’s government against Taliban militants, following meetings in Washington with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“I’m actually quite impressed by the actions that the Pakistani government is now taking. Action was called for, and action has now been forthcoming,” Mrs. Clinton said, speaking to reporters at the White House in an unscheduled public appearance.

Pakistan’s military has launched operations against militants in the Swat Valley and in the Buner region, which lies just 60 miles west of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. Mr. Zardari has been criticized in the days leading up to his visit to Washington for not acting sooner and more decisively against rebel fighters.

Critics have said that many in Pakistan’s government, including Mr. Zardari, have not seen the Taliban as the existential threat to Pakistani sovereignty that it is, and have instead remained focused on Pakistan’s long-running, tense rivalry with India, its neighbor to the east.

But Mrs. Clinton said she thought that a “paradigm shift” has taken place in Pakistani thinking.

“I think that has occurred,” she said.

She also reinforced messages of strong support for Mr. Zardari, saying the United States should be “a little more understanding on our part about what he confronted.”

“He inherited a very difficult and unmanageable situation,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Mr. Zardari and Mr. Karzai headed to the White House as well Wednesday afternoon to meet with President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for talks on cooperation measures to crack down on al Qaeda and Taliban activity along the border of the two countries, as well as a wider range of cooperative matters to strengthen civil society and limit extremism.

Mrs. Clinton held meetings with the two leaders at the State Department on Wednesday morning.

“We kept the focus on what we’re actually going to do,” she said. “We’re going to be very specific. We don’t want to have any misunderstandings.”

Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Zardari and Mr. Karzai spoke together at the State Department’s headquarters before the formal meeting.

“Democracy is the only cure,” Mr. Zardari said.

Calling upon the United States as the oldest, most powerful democracy in the world, Mr. Zardari said his country’s 7-month-old democracy “needs attention and nurturing.”

Mrs. Clinton began the meetings by addressing reports of civilian deaths during a coalition-forces attack Tuesday on Afghan National Security Forces in the Farah Province.

The United States “deeply, deeply regrets the loss of civilian life,” she said.

Department spokesman Robert Wood said the United States and Afghanistan will conduct a joint investigation “to determine exactly what happened.”

Mr. Karzai urged the countries to join in the struggle against the “menace of terrorism.”

“Pakistan and Afghanistan are conjoined twins,” he said. “Our suffering is shared; our joys are always shared.”

Mr Zardari, going a step further, said, “This menace of terrorism I have called a cancer, and democracy is the only cure.”

Mrs. Clinton also said the pursuit of peace in the region must be an “all-government effort” in which such U.S. agencies as the CIA, FBI and Agriculture Department will participate.

“We have made this a common cause because we face a common challenge,” she said. Mrs. Clinton also said the United States recently has tripled its nonmilitary spending in the region.

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