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Pak ‘mortal threat’ to world
Ashish Kumar Sen
writes from Washington

Hillary Rodham ClintonAs the Taliban spreads its tentacles toward Islamabad, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday accused the government of “abdicating” to the extremists and urged the people of Pakistan to speak up against the militant menace.

In her first appearance before Congress as Secretary of State, Clinton told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee the United States believes that the extremist element operating within Pakistan “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.”

“We cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, which is, as we all know, a nuclear-armed state,” she said.

She contended that she didn’t “hear that kind of outrage and concern coming from enough people that would reverberate back within the highest echelons of the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan.”

In a sharp rebuke of the government in Islamabad, Clinton said it was “basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists” and said this was happening because the people of Pakistan believe “the state has a judiciary system that works.” Speaking of the judiciary system, she continued: “It's corrupt. It doesn't extend its power into the countryside.”

A day earlier, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the region, told reporters after a speech at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government that the Swat Valley cease-fire is jeopardising the federal government’s ability to check the Taliban.

“There are concerns in many of the political communities within Pakistan, and they’re all looking very hard at what the implications of the agreement in Swat will be long-term. ... That threat is significant,” Petraeus said.

Clinton said the Pakistani government “must begin to deliver government services. Otherwise, they are going to lose out to those who show up and claim that they can solve people’s problems and then they will impose this harsh form of oppression on women and others, which we find unacceptable.” She emphasized that the centerpiece of the United States’ counterterrorism strategy is the disruption, dismantling, and defeat of Al Qaeda, and the prevention of their return to safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Noting Islamabad’s opposition to proposed conditions on U.S. financial aid, Clinton acknowledged that Washington had a fine line to walk. “If they’re too weak, we don’t get changes. If they’re too strong, we get a backlash,” she said, adding, “So we’re trying to figure out sort of what is the area that will influence behavior and produce results. We are creating measures of performance that we will share with the Congress so that you and we can follow whether or not we’re getting the kind of positive outcomes that we’re attempting to achieve.”

President Barack Obama has supported legislation that seeks to give $1.5 billion to Pakistan over the course of five years. The bill also calls for the administration to make a series of reasonable determinations to ensure that military assistance is used to meet both U.S. and Pakistani national security interests. Clinton said as the administration works with Congress to develop a set of conditions for this aid “we have to just be careful that what we put into legislation doesn’t stop cooperation instead of further cooperation.”

“We’re not interested in putting money into doing what hasn’t worked. And we’ve seen the situation deteriorate over the last eight years in Pakistan and even before,” she said, referring to the billions of U.S. dollars given by the Bush Administration to Pervez Musharraf’s administration. But, she added, the Obama administration is convinced the democratically elected government in Pakistan shares its goals with respect to the terrorist threat. “We just have to figure out how we could best support them in actually getting results.”

Discussing A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, she acknowledged there’s “no doubt he is probably the world’s greatest proliferator, and the damage that he’s done around the world has been incalculable.”

“We have made it very clear that the network had to be dismantled, and it was. There are people who were connected with A.Q. Khan who are out of business or who were in prison. And there are ongoing efforts to continue to obtain useful information,” she added. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, who recently returned from a trip to Pakistan, said he was “encouraged by the dramatically improved U.S. ties with India, but deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Pakistan.”

The congressman noted that the United States has an “enormous stake” in the stability and security of Pakistan. “We can’t allow al Qaeda or any other terrorist group that threatens our national security to operate with impunity in the tribal regions. Nor can we permit the Pakistani state and its nuclear arsenal to be taken over by the Taliban or any other radical groups or otherwise be destabilized in a matter that could lead to renewed conflict with India. So it is very alarming that we’re now hearing predictions from a number of leading experts that Pakistan could collapse in as little as six months,” he added.

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