By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 30, 2009
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed doubt Thursday over Pakistan's failure to locate top al-Qaeda leaders in the eight years since they escaped over the border from Afghanistan, telling a group of Pakistani journalists that she found "it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to."
"So far as we know," she said, "they're in Pakistan."
Clinton's comments, the most direct public statement of a U.S. argument long made in private, came as she tried to balance assurances of strong economic and military support for Pakistan with reminders that the relationship is a "two-way street."
"If we are going to have a mature partnership where we work together," she said, "then there are issues that not just the United States, but others have with your government and your military establishment."
Clinton, who made her comments during a day-long trip to the eastern city of Lahore, later met with the country's top military and intelligence officials.
After her three-day visit to Pakistan ends Friday, Clinton plans to travel to the Middle East over the weekend for hastily arranged meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, her second trip to the region as secretary of state.
Special U.S. envoy George J. Mitchell will meet Clinton in Jerusalem on Saturday, officials said, but there is little expectation of a major breakthrough in moving the Israelis and Palestinians toward direct talks by the end of the year. At the very least, the stop may provide some progress to report to Arab leaders at a conference the secretary plans to attend Monday in Morocco.
Speaking to the Pakistani journalists, Clinton was matter-of-fact, offering an example of some of the questions the United States would like more forcefully addressed even as it strives to respond to some of Pakistan's grievances. In a separate meeting with business executives in Lahore, Clinton contrasted the opulent conference room where they had gathered with Pakistan's low ranking on the Human Development Index -- 141 out of more than 180 countries -- and suggested that the widespread failure to pay taxes here may be related to the country's economic problems.
According to U.S. officials, who spoke before Clinton's late evening meeting with the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, and intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Pakistani military's ongoing offensive in the tribal region of South Waziristan remains focused on air attacks. Meanwhile, 28,000 ground troops are working from the edges to shrink insurgent-dominated territory and encourage divisions among militant groups.
With Clinton's visit focused on "people-to-people" ties, the secretary was said to have resisted meeting with the military. But the military's importance in Pakistan's politics -- and the opportunity for a real-time progress report on the offensive as the administration reaches the final stages of its Afghanistan war strategy review -- was said to have persuaded her.
Officials traveling with Clinton expressed overall satisfaction with the trip, which has been an exercise in message calibration. A powerful explosion in the northwestern city of Peshawar, which killed at least 100 people, coincided with her arrival here Wednesday. In meetings with government officials and in public appearances, she praised the army's ongoing offensive, bemoaned what she called misunderstandings over congressional conditions imposed on U.S. military and economic aid to Pakistan, and pledged American respect for Pakistani culture and traditions.
She began her Lahore trip Thursday morning with a wreath-laying and a tour of the 17th-century Badshahi Mosque, a behemoth of red sandstone and marble.
Clinton held a working lunch with political opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, and his brother Shahbaz, the chief minister of Punjab province, and met with civil society leaders.
At a town hall meeting with university students, she parried critical questions about the aid conditions and U.S. drone missile attacks on insurgent sanctuaries in the western border areas, and said the U.S.-Pakistan relationship was strong -- and growing.
"That is one of the reasons I'm here today," Clinton said. "I do not want anyone, anywhere in the world -- particularly in my own country -- to have any misunderstanding about the people of Pakistan and the abilities, talents and positive contributions of the people of Pakistan."