US turning a new page in ties, says Hillary

WASHINGTON: A lot of military equipment is ‘fungible’ and mobile and can be used in different places, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Dawn when asked if it’s fair to demand that a Pakistani military unit using a certain weapon on the Afghan border leave that weapon behind when it’s transferred to another place.

In a wide-ranging interview, Secretary Clinton said that since the beginning of the Waziristan operation, the US had been trying to accelerate its assistance for the Pakistani military.

‘We both have bureaucracies. We know how it is sometimes that things get delayed or they’re slower than we want, but we’re really trying to accelerate everything we can to help the Pakistani military.’

She agreed with the suggestion that the operation in South Waziristan was crucial for Pakistan’s stability and survival.

‘We believe that what the Pakistani military has done is in the best interest of Pakistan. It also is a conflict that we believe Pakistan has to win for Pakistan’s future.’

Asked if failure in Waziristan could also jeopardise Pakistan, the secretary said: ‘Well, it is a risk, but I have a lot of confidence in the Pakistani military. I think that this is a very well thought out and well executed military campaign. We saw the success in Swat, and I think we’re seeing the results of this effort in Waziristan.’

Asked if the US was sharing intelligence it gathered through its unmanned aircraft with the Pakistani military to help it trace the militants hiding in Waziristan, she said: ‘I don’t discuss intelligence, but we are doing all that we can to be helpful to the Pakistani military.’

In the interview, Secretary also addressed some of the issues that irritate people both in the United States and Pakistan but focussed mainly on what she believes was the real substance: a desire to build a long-term partnership between the two nations.

Asked if the uproar over the Kerry-Lugar bill had done a major damage to US relations with the Pakistani military, she said: ‘I hope not. And I will be discussing that directly, as have other representatives of our government, both our administration and Congress, because that was certainly not the intention.’

She pointed out that the US was providing a great deal of support to the Pakistani military in their ‘courageous fight’ against the violent extremists.

‘So we certainly want to have a positive relationship and there’s been a lot of outreach between the leaders of our military and the leaders of the Pakistani military and there seems to be a good base for cooperation between our militaries,’ she said.

‘So we do very much value the partnership and support that we are giving to the Pakistan military, and I hope that that will be the real story that comes out.’

The secretary, who arrives in Islamabad soon with a message of hope and friendship from President Barack Obama, acknowledged that some of the distrust between the two countries was rooted in the recent past.

‘I hope on this trip I will be able to start that ball rolling, so to speak, so that maybe some in your country will say, no, I really didn’t have a good opinion before,’ she said.

‘I thought it was all about are you going to be with us or against us on the war on terrorism, but this is a new day. That’s why we’re turning a new page. And I hope part of what I can convey on my trip is exactly that message.’

She had a personal message too. ‘I love the food, I wear shalwar-kamees. Give me a seekh kabob and daal I’ll be a happy person.’

The secretary also likes the Pakistani music. ‘Some of the music that’s coming out of Pakistan now, some of the cultural facts that I like, some of the dancing that is traditional which I have seen in my prior visits,’ she said.

‘I enjoy, looking at some of the work that I’ve done in the past. I remember when Chelsea and I were there. My daughter had been studying Islamic history in her school here in Washington.’

Indian border
Asked to comment on the US demand that a Pakistani army unit deployed along the Afghan border should leave behind all US-supplied weapons when it is transferred to the Indian border, Secretary Clinton said: ‘Well, that’s really a question that is hard to answer because a lot of military equipment is fungible. I mean, it’s mobile. It can be used in different places. But what we see as the direct threat to Pakistan right now comes from the violent extremism.’

She tackled the Indian factor in this equation rather tactfully. ‘Obviously, we are hopeful that there will be a resumption of dialogue between Pakistan and India, because I think the threat that Pakistan faces is a threat that could destabilise the entire region,’ she said.

‘And what we want to do is to help Pakistan really finally eliminate that threat. And what we hope is that on the ongoing challenges between India and Pakistan that that can be handled politically and it would never come to any kind of military action.’

Secretary Clinton had to rush to the White House to attend a Situation Room meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan right when she was going to settle before the camera for the interview and resumed the interview when she returned.

She said President Obama was sending a strong message of support for Pakistan with her.

The message was: ‘Let’s get back to a really strong basis where we can work with one another, we will listen more closely to one another and consult and have this strategic partnership really build more into the future and create benefits for both of our people.’

Kerry-Lugar dispute
Speaking about the Kerry-Lugar bill, Secretary Clinton said the US had made it ‘very clear’ that in Kerry-Lugar it’s not putting conditions on the Pakistani government; it’s putting conditions on its own institutions for evaluating the aid, like it does with the vast majority of its aid programmes.

‘But the Pakistanis have their own ability to make decisions that they believe are obviously in the Pakistani interest. We respect territorial and sovereign capacity of Pakistan. Their sovereignty has to be respected. So we want to be a partner, not to in any way dictate but to assist. And that’s what we’re attempting to do.’

Similarly, she said, there were no conditions on Pakistan in the recently passed amendment to the US defence expenditure bill.

‘I think if one looks carefully at those provisions, they’re mostly about what our Defence Department is expected to do. They’re not really any kind of condition or restriction on the Pakistani military.

‘But I do think it’s fair to point out that when the United States taxpayers provide money to any military, which we do in many places around the world, it is supposed to be for certain missions. I mean, there are many areas where a nation’s military would be proceeding on its own because something was very much in their own self-interest which we do not partner on, but where we partner there is a back and forth about what we can do to be helpful.’

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