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Clinton Tells U.S. Lawmakers Pakistan Meetings Were 'Productive'

  • RFE/RL

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on October 27.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on October 27.

WASHINGTON-- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has told lawmakers in Congress that she delivered a tough message during her recent trip to Pakistan.

"In Islamabad last week, [Joint Chiefs of Staff head] General [Martin] Dempsey, [CIA] Director [David] Petraeus, and I delivered a single, unified message: Pakistan's civilian and military leadership must join us in squeezing the Haqqani network from both sides of the border and in closing safe havens," she said.

"We underscored to our Pakistani counterparts the urgency of the task at hand, and we had detailed and frank conversations about the concrete steps both sides need to take."

Clinton was on Capitol Hill to testify before the powerful House Committee on Foreign Affairs about her trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which she said was "productive" in advancing U.S. goals in the region.

U.S. relations with Pakistan have been in a free-fall since May, when U.S. forces carried out a secret raid to kill Osama bin Laden at his compound in a suburb of Islamabad. Since then, a series of diplomatic crisis have strained ties to their breaking point.

Clinton's assessment of her meetings in Kabul and Islamabad was largely positive: she said the United States was meeting its goals to secure and stabilize Afghanistan in advance of the scheduled 2014 withdrawal of U.S. troops, but also that it needed the help of both countries to continue the progress.

"I will be the first to admit that working with our Afghan and Pakistani partners is not always easy. But these relationships are advancing America's national security interests, and walking away from them would undermine those interests," she said.

She repeated the U.S. call for Pakistan to eliminate the safe havens on its territory that provide refuge for the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated group that regularly carries out attacks across the border on NATO and Afghan forces.

Clinton told lawmakers that in her meetings with Pakistani civilian and military leaders, she "explained that trying to distinguish between so-called good terrorists and bad terrorists is ultimately self-defeating and dangerous."

But committee members seemed unconvinced that Islamabad feels the same.

Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican-Florida) echoed the comments of others members when she expressed concern about Pakistan's willingness to support U.S. interests in the region. "We cannot sustain a partnership with Islamabad if it pursues policies that are hostile to U.S. interests and jeopardize American lives," she said.

Ros-Lehtinen also asked Clinton about a remark Afghan President Hamid Karzai made in a recent interview with a private Pakistani television station. Karzai said: "If fighting starts between Pakistan and the U.S., we are beside Pakistan. If Pakistan is attacked and the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan's help, Afghanistan will be there with you."

Addressing Clinton, Ros-Lehtinen said: "I wanted to ask you, is this something that he told you in your meetings? How do you interpret his comments? And a broader question, are Afghanistan and Pakistan reliable allies?"

Clinton replied that when she heard about the comment she asked U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker to "figure out what it meant."

"He really believed that what Karzai was talking about was the long history of cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- in particular, the refuge that Pakistan provided to millions of Afghans who were crossing the border, seeking safety during the Soviet invasion during the warlordism, during the Taliban period, and that it [was] not at all about a war that anybody was predicting," she said,

Clinton added that Crocker had told her that Karzai's comment "was taken out of context and misunderstood."

Even as Clinton was trying to persuade members of Congress that Pakistan is a reliable partner for the United States, the deputy commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan was accusing it of allowing insurgents to fire on U.S. troops.

Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti said rocket and mortar fire against his forces near the border appeared to come from locations that are within sight of Pakistani military posts. In a Pentagon briefing for reporters via video link, Scaparrotti said the attacks "appear to us to be a collaboration...or at a minimum a looking the other way."

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, a U.S. drone strike killed five commanders of a powerful Pakistani Taliban faction, according to the group's leader. The commanders killed in the strike are said to belong to the Maulvi Nazir faction of Pakistan's Taliban, which carries out cross-border attacks from its strongholds in South Waziristan.

Senior U.S. officials said last week that one of Clinton's messages to Islamabad was that the United States would act unilaterally, if necessary, to go after extremist groups on its soil who kill Americans.

written by Heather Maher, with additional agency material