Tension With Pakistan on Display as Clinton Visitshttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The last time Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Pakistan, less than a year ago, she was asked when the United States would stop killing innocent civilians in its covert drone attacks. She, in turn, suggested that officials in the Pakistani government knew where Al Qaeda’s leaders were hiding.
The mood was noticeably less toxic on Monday, perhaps in part because Mrs. Clinton showed up with more than $500 million in economic aid, part of her campaign to win over a skeptical Pakistani public.
Changing Pakistani attitudes toward America has become one of Mrs. Clinton’s personal challenges as secretary of state. She and her advisers seized on the less hostile reception given to her on this visit, compared with October, to assert that her public diplomacy was making a difference.
“I could feel a change,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she flew from Pakistan to Afghanistan at the end of the two-day visit. “The government officials also believe we are moving the needle.”
But she also expressed caution about overstating progress with Pakistan.
“Of course there is a legacy of suspicion that we inherited,” Mrs. Clinton said. “It is not going to be eliminated overnight.”
There was certainly some cognitive dissonance in Mrs. Clinton’s encounters with Pakistanis. At a town-hall meeting, she told a businessman that Pakistan’s record of proliferation would make it hard for the United States to sell it nuclear technology. In a later round table with television journalists, she prodded Pakistan to stiffen its fight against Islamic militants.
Islamabad, she said, could do more to help the United States capture or kill Al Qaeda’s leaders. “I believe they are here in Pakistan, and it would be really helpful if we could get them,” she said in the interview, which was lively, but not as contentious as her last one here.
When the business executive pressed Mrs. Clinton about why United States had not offered Pakistan the kind of civilian nuclear energy pact it has with India, she reminded him of the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who sold nuclear secrets to Libya and North Korea.
“The problems with Mr. A. Q. Khan raise red flags with people around the world,” she said. “They cannot be overlooked or put under the carpet.” Pakistan, she said, was also resisting a treaty to curb the spread of nuclear fuel and had not explained its purchase of two reactors from China.
It is impossible to judge, based on a single meeting and an interview, whether Mrs. Clinton had changed many minds. The participants in the town-hall meeting were invited by the American Embassy in Islamabad; officials said many had worked with American diplomats. Most public opinion polls here show that Pakistanis remain deeply suspicious of the United States.
Najam Sethi, a prominent Pakistani editor and commentator, said Mrs. Clinton would have determined a better sense of her progress had she ventured to Lahore, the Punjabi city she visited last fall, where university students gave her a stony reception. The mass-market papers in Lahore and Karachi, he said, were powerful motors of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
In recent months, Mr. Sethi said, many Pakistanis had soured on the United States all over again because they had not seen any benefits from $7.5 billion in economic aid approved by Congress last year.
Certainly, her audiences this time seemed far more interested in talking about everyday problems, like Pakistan’s frequent power failures, than the threat of radical Islam. But with Mrs. Clinton headed to a major conference in Kabul on Tuesday, the topic of Afghanistan’s future came up, too.
Mrs. Clinton offered guarded support for negotiations with Pakistan-based insurgent groups, like the Haqqani network. But she cautioned both Afghans and Pakistanis to enter any such talks warily, since groups like the Haqqani network were unlikely to meet the minimum American requirements to be reconciled with Afghan society: severing ties with Al Qaeda, renouncing violence and abiding by the Afghan Constitution.Mrs. Clinton confirmed that the United States was moving toward putting the Haqqani network on its list of terrorist groups. But she said that should not necessarily rule out Afghan efforts to reconcile with it. “There is no contradiction between trying to defeat those who are determined to fight and opening the door to those who are willing to reconcile,” she said.