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Challenges remain: Hillary
Persuading Pakistan about the urgency to shift focus to the real problem of Taliban
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

President Barack Obama's administration appears to have made little headway in persuading the Pakistani government about the urgency to shift focus away from a perceived threat from India toward a more real problem of the Taliban.

Midway through a day of meetings with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Washington on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said challenges remain in terms of "approach."

"There are still some challenges in terms of assets and resources and approach toward dealing with not a standing army across a border, but the kind of insurgency and guerrilla warfare that is being waged against the legitimate authority of the Pakistani state," she said.

In the days leading up to Zardari's visit to Washington, U.S. officials, from the president on down, had expressed the urgency for Pakistan to shift its priorities.

Asked by a reporter at the White House why the Obama administration is not doing more to improve relations between India and Pakistan, Mrs. Clinton's reply was brief: "Everything in due time."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, elaborating on Mrs. Clinton's response, said given the challenges ahead in Pakistan, the Obama administration believes "focusing on the security challenges within the country that are being posed right now make a lot more sense than stockpiling troops on the border."

Pakistan is seeking U.S. aid in exchange for cooperation in the war against the extremists. Following a meeting with Mrs. Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the State Department on Wednesday, Zardari sought "nurturing" from the United States.

"Pakistan faces many challenges. Our democracy is trying to overcome these challenges," he explained, adding: "We need the nurturing of democracy of the world. The oldest most powerful democracy of the world, the extended democracies of the world, we need my democracy needs attention and needs nurturing."

The Obama administration is supporting legislation in the U.S. Congress that seeks to triple U.S. nonmilitary aid to Pakistan.

Zardari also wants control of U.S. Predator drones that target terrorist suspects from the skies above the Pakistan-Afghan border. However, U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones said such "operational issues did not come up" in talks with the Pakistani leader.

Many U.S. lawmakers are apprehensive about doling out billions of dollars to Pakistan after it failed to account for much of the $10 billion given to Pervez Musharraf's administration following the 2001 terrorist attacks. Zardari spoke to these concerns saying he was "here to assure Americans, partners that while we will need high level of support in the days to come, we will also be far more transparent in our actions." State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the U.S. will "make sure, to the best of our ability, that this money does not go in the aid of terrorist groups."

Pledging his commitment to take on the "cancer" of terrorism that has taken a firm grip in his country, the Pakistani leader said: "Just as the United States is making progress after seven years of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will - we too will make progress over time."

Mrs. Clinton, who recently accused the Zardari government of "abdicating" to the Taliban, told reporters she was "quite impressed by the actions that the Pakistani government is now taking." She added: "I think that action was called for and action has been forthcoming... I think that there is a resolve going forward."

Obama said he was pleased that both Zardari and Karzai "fully appreciate the seriousness of the threat that we face, and have reaffirmed their commitment to confronting it."

He assured Pakistan and Afghanistan of Washington's "lasting commitment" to not only defeat al Qaeda but to also support the democratically elected governments in Islamabad and Kabul.

Halfway around the globe, the Pakistani military pounded suspected Taliban positions in the northwestern part of the country prompting a stream of refugees to begin pouring out of the region. While in Afghanistan, rights groups blamed civilian deaths on U.S. airstrikes. Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton expressed their deep regret to Karzai for the deaths.

"The road ahead will be difficult," Obama told the visiting leaders at the White House on Wednesday.

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