- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 1, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Pakistani political analysts as well as students praised Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for speaking the “truth” during her visit last week, but also warned that Washington will have to match her words with action in order to crush al Qaeda- and Taliban-led terrorism.

A day after Mrs. Clinton ended her three-day visit, during which she suggested that the Pakistani government was not doing enough to capture al Qaeda leaders, Pakistan’s prime minister said the country does not have “any other option” but to defeat the militants.

“We are at war,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters in Peshawar, where a car bombing killed more than 115 people on Wednesday as Mrs. Clinton arrived in Pakistan.

“Our civil leadership, our military leadership and political leadership … we are on the same page that we have to fight the militancy. We do not have any other option, because their intentions are to take over” the country, the Associated Press quoted Mr. Gilani as saying.

The Pakistani army and air force have been targeting militants’ strongholds in the South Waziristan region close to the Afghan border in a massive offensive that began more than two weeks ago.

On Saturday, Pakistani jets bombed three hide-outs of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in the Orkazai tribal region, killing at least eight militants and wounding several others. Another air strike killed seven militants in the Kurram tribal region, intelligence officials said, according to the AP.

Also Saturday, seven paramilitary soldiers driving through the Khyber tribal area were killed by a roadside bomb planted by suspected Taliban militants, local official Ghulam Farooq Khan told the AP.

During her visit, Mrs. Clinton met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Mr. Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and several other political and military officials. The part of the visit that drew the most attention, however, was her direct interaction with the people of Pakistan in the political capital, Islamabad, and the cultural capital, Lahore, in the form of town-hall meetings and group interviews by journalists.

In all the events, she emphasized that defeating Islamist militants active along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was vital for the security of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Speaking to a group of journalists in Lahore on Thursday, Mrs. Clinton criticized the Pakistani government for not doing enough to hunt down al Qaeda leaders and suggested that some Pakistani officials know where the terrorist leaders are hiding.

“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,” she said. “Maybe that’s the case. Maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.”

Her visit came two weeks after President Obama approved $7.5 billion in nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. While welcoming the assistance, Pakistani officials expressed concern that it comes with unfair conditions on Pakistan’s military.

At a town-hall meeting in Lahore, Mrs. Clinton faced a group of students who asked pointed questions about the aid terms and about U.S. drone attacks targeting militants close to the Afghan border - with one student calling them “executions without trial.”

“The [aid] bill does not impinge on Pakistani sovereignty. It does not compromise Pakistan’s national-security interests. It does not micromanage any aspect of Pakistan’s military or civilian operations,” Mrs. Clinton said, but she added that the U.S. administration “did not do a very good job communicating what our intentions were.”

She also addressed the common Pakistani complaint that Washington has a history of abandoning Pakistan after achieving short-term strategic goals in the region, such as driving the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan in 1989.

Conceding past mistakes, Mrs. Clinton said, “It is difficult to go forward if we’re always looking in the rearview mirror.”

Despite the sharp rebukes she faced at the public meetings, Mrs. Clinton won widespread praise from political analysts and students for her frank comments.

Riaz, a graduate student from the Swat Valley who had been displaced by a Pakistani military offensive against Taliban militants in that area, said Mrs. Clinton’s appearances at public forums gave the youths of Pakistan a chance to hear the American point of view about militancy and terrorism.

“I found Hillary quite convincing, and even when she said [there is] al Qaeda presence in Pakistan and defended U.S. drone attacks, she did it rationally,” said Riaz, who asked to be identified only by one name.

What Mrs. Clinton said about Pakistani officials’ knowledge about the al Qaeda presence in the country and their reluctance to catch them “is a truth which could only be told by someone from outside Pakistan to have an impact,” said Gul Marjan, a researcher on terrorism and visiting professor at the University of Peshawar. “For the country’s decision-makers, it is a tough message that U.S. can’t be hoodwinked any longer.”

Mr. Marjan said the Obama administration’s policy toward Pakistan is more “people friendly” than that of the George W. Bush administration.

The rational arguments presented by Mrs. Clinton “would offset anti-American feelings to a certain extent,” said Naila Khan, a research student at the Allama Iqbal University in Islamabad. Her statement regarding the al Qaeda presence in Pakistan “may push the country’s officials to become more serious in fighting al Qaeda.”

Imran Khan, an analyst and writer, said that while the Clinton visit is “definitely a positive development in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship,” Washington needs to show more commitment to ending al Qaeda and Taliban militancy in Pakistan.

“I think if the U.S. really wants to mop up al Qaeda and Taliban, the threat is not that big,” he said, noting that the U.S. spent far more money fighting the war in Iraq than in trying to wipe out militants in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. “Totally blaming Pakistan for all the mess by the only superpower does not sound convincing,” he added.

“Americans have now to match their sugarcoated words with actions; otherwise, the situation may aggravate.”

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