Sunday, May 29, 2011

U.S. calls for firm measures to Pakistan to act against Islamic militancy

The secretary of state in the U.S., Hillary Clinton said Friday that Pakistan needs to crack down on Islamist militancy and the relationship between the two allies, strained since the death of Osama bin Laden, had reached a turning point. Clinton, the most important official to have visited Pakistan since the U.S.

elite team of SEALs killed the leader of Al Qaeda in a complex near Islamabad this month, seemed to be trying to ease tensions. Clinton repeated that there was no evidence that any senior Pakistani official had known the whereabouts of bin Laden, but also asked Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, do more to combat militants.

"This is an important visit because we have reached a turning point. We hope that Pakistan take firm action in the coming days," he said after talks with Pakistani leaders with the Chief of Joint Staff, Mike Mullen. Clinton declined to give details on these measures but a U.S. official traveling with her suggested that could include special operations to target militants.

The discovery of al Qaeda in a garrison town just 50 kilometers from the capital on May 2 raised new doubts about the reliability of Pakistan as a partner in the war against militancy. Clinton said Pakistani officials had told him that "someone, somewhere" had been giving support to Bin Laden in Pakistan, but reiterated that there was no evidence of any complicity of senior government officials.

"I want to reiterate again that we have no reason to believe that someone at the highest level of government knew (about bin Laden)," she said. Clinton has emphasized the need to continue working with Pakistan, but his visit came as U.S. lawmakers question whether Islamabad should continue to receive billions of dollars in aid.

The Government of Pakistan welcomed the death of Bin Laden, but was upset by the attack secret Abbottabad, where the terrorist lived for years, seeing it as a violation of its sovereignty. Clinton did not apologize for the incursion, which was the latest in a series of incidents, from the constant drone attacks the arrest of a CIA contractor for killing two Pakistanis, who have strained the relationship.

However, he noted that Pakistan has a high concentration of militant leaders. He said the U.S. was trying to separate the Taliban in Afghanistan of Al Qaeda, and to encourage the militants to reconcile with the government. While acknowledging the interests of Pakistan for a more stable and secure Afghanistan, said Pakistan should cooperate more.

There is little evidence that Islamist militancy has declined despite the billions of U.S. aid. On Friday, government aircraft attacked militants in the northwest, killing at least 16 of them, officials in the area. There was no independent confirmation of casualties. The attack came a day after a suicide car bomber killed 34 people in front of a police station in the town of Hangu.

Militant attacks have raised doubts about Pakistan's ability to quell militancy and protect its nuclear arsenal. But a U.S. official said Washington saw signs of improvement in Pakistan's cooperation, including the return of the tail section of the helicopter that crashed the night of the assault in Abbottabad and access to Bin Laden's wives.

In what seems another step to reduce tensions, Pakistani authorities allowed the CIA to send a forensic team to enter the complex of bin Laden for clues. A Pakistani military official said a CIA team entered the complex, but was not related to Clinton's visit.

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