US seeks more from Pakistan

2010-07-19 21:22

Islamabad - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday announced major aid projects for Pakistan as she sought tougher action from Islamabad to combat militants ahead of a key conference in Afghanistan.

Clinton is bidding to build on a shaky alliance with Pakistan, whose mountainous western border shields Taliban militants fighting the insurgency next door, as well as groups responsible for attacks in the United States.

The aid, focused on water and energy needs, is part of US efforts to deepen engagement with the Asian nuclear power and overcome rife anti-Americanism after years of perceived neglect of bilateral relations.

Washington believes Pakistan is integral to any result in the Afghan war and has long voiced concern that Pakistan's power brokers were supporting Taliban insurgents, despite crackdowns by the military in some border areas.

Clinton met Pakistan's prime minister and president on Sunday and in a media interview acknowledged greater joint efforts on terrorism, but called for "additional measures" from Islamabad to combat militants on its soil.

"There are still additional steps that we are asking and expecting the Pakistanis to take," she told the BBC.

"... there is no doubt in anyone's mind that should an attack against the United States be traced to be Pakistani it would have a very devastating impact on our relationship", she added.

A Pakistani-American arrested over the botched car bombing in New York's Times Square in May allegedly received explosives training from experts linked to the Pakistani militant group the Tehrik-i-Taliban.

Amnesty

The group operates from the tribal zones of Pakistan, considered by Washington to be the global headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban and their allies in al-Qaeda, as well as a base camp for the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistani officials have reportedly arranged talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and militant group "the Haqqani network" which is also battling coalition troops in Afghanistan from Pakistan's tribal border area.

All sides deny the report.

Karzai has been trying to convince the rebels to give up fighting his government in return for amnesty, while Pakistani generals are reluctant to send their troops to fight groups that avoid attacks within Pakistan.

Clinton confirmed that Washington planned to formally designate the Haqqani network a foreign terrorist organisation while cautiously welcoming other Afghan plans to talk with and reintegrate fighters who renounce violence.

"We know that the Haqqani network is behind many attacks in Afghanistan.... It's clearly a terrorist group", Clinton told reporters Monday.

"The fact that there may be discussions with this group (or others) is something we're willing to support as long as there are specific guidelines."

Clinton also said she believed al Qaeda No 1 Osama Bin Laden, remained at large in Pakistan.

Cold War allies

A senior US official speaking on condition of anonymity said closer ties with Pakistan's powerful army chief General Ashfaq Kayani were helping in the struggle against the militant Haqqani network.

Clinton met Kayani for closed-door discussions late Monday.

"The visiting dignitary remained with him for some time and discussed matters of mutual interest," said the Pakistani military in a statement.

She later flew to Kabul for a key international conference to be held Tuesday focused on planning the war-torn country's future with less dependency on its Western backers.

Pakistan and the United States had been allies throughout the Cold War years as both played a key role in arming Islamist insurgents who ousted Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989.

Ties then cooled until the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States.

Pakistan has been hard hit by Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked violence, with more than 3 500 people killed across the country in the last three years.

Five year plan

A suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque in the eastern city of Sargodha Sunday evening, wounding at least 12 people, officials said.

Opening Monday talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Clinton hailed progress in bilateral ties and said she hoped the aid projects would "lay the foundations for an enduring partnership" with Pakistan.

They include two energy dams, various drinking water and irrigation projects, as well as the building of health centres and schemes to improve agriculture and private sector income.

They are part of a five-year $7.5bn funding approved by the US Congress last year.

Clinton reserved some criticism for Pakistan's track record on nuclear security, saying that Washington had conveyed "concerns" over the sale of two civilian nuclear reactors by China and sought greater assurances to progress talks on a US-Pakistan civil nuclear agreement.

Clinton also lauded a new transit trade deal signed between Afghanistan and Pakistan on Sunday that officials said could boost cross-border trade from an annual $1.5bn to $5bn.

Read more on:    al qaeda  |  hillary clinton  |  hamid karzai  |  pakistan
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