ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed doubt Thursday over Pakistan’s failure to locate top al-Qaida leaders in the eight years since they escaped over the border from Afghanistan, telling a group of Pakistani journalists that she found “it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to.”
“So far as we know,” she said, “they’re in Pakistan.”
Clinton’s comments, the most direct public statement of a U.S. argument long made in private, came as she tried to balance assurances of strong economic and military support for Pakistan with reminders that the relationship is a “two-way street.”
“If we are going to have a mature partnership where we work together,” she said, “then there are issues that not just the United States but others have with your government and your military establishment.”
Clinton, who made her comments during a daylong trip to the eastern city of Lahore, later met with the country’s top military and intelligence officials.
After her three-day visit to Pakistan ends today, Clinton plans to travel to the Middle East for hastily arranged meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, her second trip to the region as secretary of state and the first since the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formed.
Special U.S. envoy George Mitchell will meet Clinton in Jerusalem on Saturday, officials said, but there is little expectation of a major breakthrough in moving the Israelis and Palestinians toward direct talks by the end of the year.
Speaking to the Pakistani journalists, Clinton was matter-of-fact, offering an example of some of the questions the United States would like more forcefully addressed even as it strives to respond to some of Pakistan’s grievances. In a separate meeting with business executives in Lahore, Clinton contrasted the opulent conference room where they had gathered with Pakistan’s low ranking on the Human Development Index – 141 out of more than 180 countries – and suggested that the widespread failure to pay taxes here may be related to the country’s economic problems.
According to U.S. officials, who spoke before Clinton’s late-evening meeting with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani and intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Pakistani military’s ongoing offensive in the tribal region of South Waziristan remains focused on air attacks. Meanwhile, 28,000 ground troops are working from the edges to shrink insurgent-dominated territory and encourage divisions among militant groups.
With the visit focused on “people-to-people” ties, Clinton was said to have resisted meeting with the military. But the military’s importance in Pakistan’s politics – and the opportunity for a real-time progress report on the offensive as the administration reaches the final stages of its Afghanistan war strategy review – was said to have persuaded her.