Pakistanis to Clinton: War on terror is not our war

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 30, 2009 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- After three days of encounters with America-bashing Pakistanis -- who rejected her contention that the U.S. and Pakistan face a common enemy -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that "we're not getting through."

Prominent women and tribesmen from the North West Frontier Province delivered the same hostile message that she'd heard the two preceding days from students and journalists: Pakistanis aren't ready to endorse American friendship despite an eight-year-old anti-terrorism alliance between the countries and a multi-billion-dollar new U.S. aid package.

Clinton put her case directly to the public Friday in televised appearances in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, fielding angry questions about the alleged activities of U.S. contractor Blackwater in Pakistan, the tough conditions that came with a $1.5 billion-a-year American aid package and alleged U.S. favoritism toward Pakistan's archenemy, India.

One tribesman bluntly told her: "Your presence in the region is not good for peace."

"We are fighting a war that is imposed on us. It's not our war. It is your war," journalist Asma Shirazi told Clinton during the women's meeting. "You had one 9-11. We are having daily 9-11s in Pakistan."

Clinton later told CNN that she was well aware of the "pretty negative situation" in Pakistan before she got here. "I wanted to have these interactions. ... I don't think the way you deal with negative feelings is to pretend they're not there ... or just come with happy talk."

"The problem is that we want American dollars but we, as a country, hate Americans," Abida Hussain, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, told McClatchy. "We're not perfect, but we want the Americans to be perfect."

While Pakistanis are opposed to religious extremists, polls have shown a general refusal to acknowledge that al Qaida and its allies are directing the bloodshed.

Many ordinary people appear willing to believe a claim that the Pakistani Taliban made Friday that Blackwater had carried out a devastating car bombing of a market this week in the northwestern city of Peshawar that killed more than 100 people. Pakistani officials previously had pinned the blame on Islamic militants.

Questions about U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan -- conducted by the CIA -- dogged Clinton's visit, and it was the one issue on which she had no answer in her otherwise forthright response to criticism.

One furious woman in the audience equated those killed in the drone strikes with victims of terrorist bombings.

"There is a war going on" was the justification Clinton offered for the missile strikes on suspected militants, saying she couldn't comment further as it was a military-to-military issue.

The highly emotional criticism of the drones continues despite the fact that a strike in August killed the leader of Pakistan's Taliban movement, the country's declared public enemy number one. Islamabad routinely protests the strikes, even though the Pakistani military secretly co-operates with them. Pakistani officials are unwilling to explain the rationale; the government here rarely defends the American relationship.

Clinton on Friday softened her criticism of Pakistan a day earlier for its failure to get the al Qaida leadership, which had generated negative headlines.

"What I said was I don't know if anyone knows, but we in the U.S. would very much like to see the end of the al Qaida leadership. And our best information is that they are somewhere in Pakistan, and we think it's in Pakistan's interests, as well as our own, that we try to capture or kill the leadership of al Qaida," she told several hundred women at an auditorium in Islamabad.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that Clinton's remarks were "completely appropriate."

"We've been in ongoing conversations with the Pakistanis about ways that they can address and go after violent extremists in their country that threaten both Pakistan and the United States," Gibbs said. "Obviously, the United States has great concern about extremists in Pakistan. And we will continue -- continue to discuss with them what can be done."

Pakistan finally undertook military action against its homegrown Taliban earlier this year, first launching an offensive in the Swat valley in the northwest, then starting an operation this month in South Waziristan, on the Afghan border. Clinton told her audience that the army shouldn't stop there, a message that few in Pakistan would want to hear.

"Al Qaida is in league with the people who are attacking Pakistan," Clinton said. "When the initial campaign in Swat and now in Waziristan is finished, I think that the Pakistani military will have to go on to try to root out other terrorist groups, or we're going to back facing the same threats."

Not every politician joined the assault on U.S. policy. Donya Aziz, a member of parliament for the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Q, told McClatchy that "a kind of hard-line religiosity had seeped into Pakistani society" since Russia's 1980s invasion of neighboring Afghanistan. She said, however, that Taliban-type beliefs were "not who we are."

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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