ISLAMABAD – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that relations between the United States and Pakistan have reached a turning point after the killing of Osama bin Laden and she called on Islamabad to take “decisive steps” in the days ahead to fight terrorism.
Clinton made the remarks after meeting with Pakistani leaders on a seven-hour trip aimed at repairing ties badly damaged by the May 2 U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaida chief. A brief portion of the meetings witnessed by reporters was stiff and awkward, with no smiles among the U.S. delegation, and it was unclear how much, if any, progress was made.
Although she stressed that the U.S. won’t abandon an alliance it considers critical to success in the war in Afghanistan and that both countries had shared interests, Clinton also criticized Pakistanis for propagating conspiracy theories and anti-American sentiment.
Pakistani officials are angry they were not told in advance of the raid against bin Laden, who was living in an army town not far from the capital, Islamabad. Parliament has passed resolutions condemning the U.S. incursion, and the U.S. has been asked to reduce the number of military personnel it has stationed in nuclear-armed Pakistan, which has become a nexus for Islamic extremism.
In the U.S., suspicions have abounded that elements in Pakistan’s security services may have harbored the terrorist mastermind, and some lawmakers have called for a review of the billions in military and humanitarian aid that the U.S. gives to Pakistan.
Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, were the highest ranking U.S. officials to travel to Pakistan since the raid. They met Friday with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, among others.
Afterward, Clinton said relations “had reached a turning point,” but that she thought Pakistan knew the stakes involved. She joked about the tense atmosphere witnessed by reporters at the beginning of the talks, but was serious-faced for the most of the news conference.
“We will do our part, and we look to the government of Pakistan to take decisive steps in the days ahead,” she said at the U.S. Embassy, with no Pakistani official present. “Joint action against al-Qaida and its affiliates will make Pakistan, America and the world safer and more secure.”
She added that the Pakistanis had mentioned “some very specific actions” they would take in the short term, but did not give any details. She also said the U.S. had been given access to bin Laden’s compound Friday, a sign of ongoing cooperation between the nations.
The U.S. relies on Pakistan for transit and supply routes for foreign troops in Afghanistan and will need its help if Afghanistan is to broker a peace deal with Taliban militants. The country is believed to have influence over several Afghan insurgent commanders.
Clinton acknowledged this, saying “for reconciliation to succeed Pakistan must be part of this process.”
She also repeated that no evidence has emerged that people in Pakistan’s highest ranks had any idea of bin Laden’s whereabouts.
According to Clinton, Zardari, the Pakistani president, grew emotional when saying that had he known of bin Laden’s whereabouts he would have gone after him. Zardari is the widower of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated by suspected al-Qaida-linked militants.
“Our counterparts in the (Pakistani) government were very forthcoming in saying that somebody, somewhere, was providing some kind of support, and they are carrying out an investigation and we have certainly offered to share whatever information we come across,” Clinton added.
Zardari’s office released a statement after the meeting saying that the two sides agreed to “work together in any future actions against high-value targets in Pakistan,” and to cooperate on promoting peace in Afghanistan.
The U.S. visit comes a day after a Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber detonated a pickup truck loaded with explosives near several government offices in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 32 people.
Thursday’s blast was the latest in a series of attacks to hit the country since the bin Laden raid, including an 18-hour siege of a naval base in Pakistan’s south. Some commentators and elements in the media have tried to blame the siege on “foreign hands” such as archrival India, with some suggesting that it was part of a grand Western conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan and take away its nuclear weapons.
Clinton lashed out at conspiracy theorists and those who spread anti-American views, saying such actions hamper what could be a more constructive relationship, and ultimately “won’t make problems disappear.”