Clinton hits out at Pakistani government over al Qaeda

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck an assertive tone in Pakistan on Thursday, criticizing its government for not doing more to root out al Qaeda and calling for better management of the economy.


AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck an assertive tone in Pakistan on Thursday, hitting out at its government over Al-Qaeda and calling for better management of the economy.

Clinton has spent the last two days in Pakistan, the troubled US ally on the frontline of the war on Al-Qaeda and its allies, trying to bolster the civilian government and counter rising anti-US sentiment in the Muslim nation.

But after pressing her message -- the US desire to turn a new page in its relations with Pakistan after mistakes of the past -- she appeared to get annoyed during talks with senior editors and business leaders.

The most senior US official to visit since President Barack Obama put the nuclear-armed state at the heart of the war on Al-Qaeda, Clinton took issue with Islamabad's position that the Al-Qaeda leadership is not in Pakistan.

"Al-Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002," Clinton told senior Pakistani newspaper editors in the country's cultural capital, Lahore.

"I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to," she added.

"Maybe that's the case; maybe they're not gettable. I don’t know... As far as we know, they are in Pakistan," she added.

She also showed impatience with criticism of a record US non-military aid bill giving Pakistan 7.5 billion dollars, which the army and political opposition have slammed for violating the country's sovereignty.

"At the risk of sounding undiplomatic, Pakistan has to have internal investment in your public services and your business opportunities," Clinton told businessmen, taking swipe at tax evasion in the cash-strapped country.

"The percentage of taxes on GDP is among the lowest in the world... We (the United States) tax everything that moves and doesn't move, and that's not what we see in Pakistan," she said.

"You do have 180 million people. Your population is projected to be about 300 million. And I don't know what you're gonna do with that kind of challenge, unless you start planning right now," she said.

A US official, speaking to journalists on board Clinton's plane from Lahore to Islamabad, said there was nothing contradictory in her remarks and her mission to strengthen ties between the United States and Pakistan.

Pakistan's relations with Washington, on whom it depends for cash and weapons to fight Islamist militants bombing the country, can be uneasy.

Many Pakistanis blame the US-led "war on terror" and the government's US alliance for extremist attacks sweeping the country, and US missile attacks on Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked extremists have inflamed sensibilities.

Clinton's visit to the second largest city in Pakistan, which has been hit by a series of gun, suicide and grenade attacks this year, was accompanied by draconian security measures a day after a car bomb killed 105 in Peshawar.

She said the "horrific bombing" in the northwestern city left no doubt that "Pakistan is in the midst of a battle against extremists".

"This is not your fight alone... You're standing on the frontlines of this battle but we are standing with you," she told students at the elite Government College University Lahore, a breeding ground for public servants.

Following other investment announcements, Clinton pledged 45 million dollars for higher education in Pakistan.

Obama's administration wants to broaden engagement with a country whose people traditionally see the United States as interested only in securing its military cooperation in the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Clinton has already committed 85 million dollars to countering poverty, 125 million dollars to improving Pakistan's woefully inadequate electricity supply and 104 million dollars to law enforcement and border security assistance.

At the weekend she will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas separately as the United States seeks to unblock stagnant peace efforts in the Middle East.

She is due in Morocco on Monday and Tuesday for talks with Middle East and Group of Eight countries about promoting economic and political progress.

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