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Clinton visits Pakistan in bid to improve ties

By Karen DeYoung
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

ISLAMABAD -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday for a three-day visit aimed at quelling rising anti-Americanism and convincing Pakistanis that the United States wants a relationship based on more than counterterrorism.

Her first trip here since becoming secretary comes amid a major Pakistani military offensive against insurgent sanctuaries near the Afghanistan border, and a wave of suicide bombings, assassinations and attacks in Pakistani cities. Details of the visit, which was not publicly announced in advance, have been closely held because of security concerns.

Although the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan "remains our highest priority," Clinton told reporters aboard the flight to Islamabad, the United States will move beyond a "lopsided" U.S.-Pakistan relationship weighted toward the "security and the counterterrorism agenda."

Clinton touted a $7.5 billion, five-year economic aid package authorized by Congress this month and said she would announce a major investment in Pakistan's domestic energy output while here.

Clinton praised the Pakistani offensive in South Waziristan and said it was "important for Americans to recognize the high price the Pakistanis are paying" in their fight against extremism, with thousands of military and civilian deaths.

President Obama's ongoing strategy deliberations on the war in Afghanistan are focused on maintaining democratic stability in Pakistan and promoting a robust Pakistani military response against insurgents fighting in both countries from sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border.

While opinion polls indicate that only a minority of Pakistanis support the insurgency here, even fewer approve of the United States and its war policy, which includes regular drone-launched missile attacks on insurgents in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

U.S. actions and intentions have become a political football here, placing Pakistan's elected government on the defensive against political opposition and military charges that President Asif Ali Zardari is conspiring with the Americans to undermine Pakistani sovereignty. In recent weeks, the Pakistani media have highlighted congressional conditions placed on U.S. economic and military assistance, which many here see as intrusive.

Although Clinton will meet with Zardari and other government leaders, the heart of her trip is public relations. She has scheduled talks with political, civil society and tribal leaders and students; town hall meetings; and numerous media appearances in Islamabad and Lahore.

In two Pakistani television interviews recorded Monday but embargoed until her arrival, Clinton repeatedly noted that she has Pakistani friends, that she likes to wear a salwar kameez -- the long, loose shirt and trousers that are the Pakistani national dress -- and that her entire family loves Pakistani food.

She bemoaned the level of "mutual mistrust" and said that she and Obama "deeply regret that there is misunderstanding and that there may not be the kind of relationship we would like to see." Recalling her visits here as first lady, when she and her daughter, Chelsea, toured religious sites and met with women's groups, Clinton said that "people remember when we try to do that." The "official-to-official, government-to-government" mode, she said, "is not sufficient."

The administration must balance its desire to calm U.S.-Pakistan relations with congressional suspicion that U.S. military and economic aid will be wasted or diverted, either toward arming Pakistan for a potential fight against India or toward the insurgents themselves.

The new aid package requires specific areas of certification, including whether Pakistan is adequately fighting insurgents, maintaining democratic standards, protecting its nuclear arsenal and hewing to international nonproliferation standards.

Clinton said she was confident that the arsenal is safe under Pakistani military protection. But one of the conditions requires the U.S. administration to report on its efforts to gain access to A.Q. Khan, the former head of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, who Western intelligence has concluded sold weapons plans and components to states such as Iran and North Korea.

Pakistan has consistently refused to allow U.S. officials to interview Khan, and the government here recently lifted house arrest restrictions against him.

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