Hillary Clinton Gets Tough With Pakistan

The Secretary of State broke protocol by acknowledging that Pakistan likely tolerates Al Qaeda

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has completed a difficult and contentious trip to Pakistan, where she faced the specter of a Pakistani civil war and outrage at America's ongoing drone strikes. But the most significant moment of her trip may have come when Clinton implied that Pakistani officials tolerate Al Qaeda's continued presence in the country's western border regions. "I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn't get to them if they really wanted to," she said at a press conference in Lahore. "Maybe that's the case. Maybe they're not gettable. I don't know." (Video here.)

What Clinton is alleging is hardly new. American terrorism experts largely agree that Pakistan turns a blind eye to insurgents out of a desire to exert pressure on neighboring Afghanistan and India. Moreover, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence is strongly suspected of actively supporting the Taliban. Clinton's exasperated reply may signal greater U.S. toughness on Pakistan's role in fighting terrorism. Will it matter?

  • ISI Likely Knows Bin Laden's Location  Military intelligence analyst John McCreary thinks it's about time someone stood up to Pakistan. "Bravo for Secretary Clinton. Either the Pakistani security services contain senior officers who know where bin Laden is and are lying or they are incompetent and ought to be dismissed. There are no other explanations for Pakistan having become the headquarters for al Qaida and the base area for international Islamic terrorism."
  • Careful of Anti-American Backlash  The New Republic's Jason Zengerle worries how this will be received. "Did Clinton decide it's time for American officials to say the same thing in public that they've been saying behind closed doors?" he asks. "I'm surprised Clinton made it in public given the Pakistanis' sensitivities. After all, this is a country where the announcement of a $7.5 billion U.S. aid package actually set off anti-American protests." Zengerle notes that if it was a slip, it could "close doors" for our diplomacy in Pakistan.
  • Pakistan Privately Relenting to Pressure?  Jason Zengerle concedes that Pakistan may be acquiescing. He notes that Pakistani forces invited journalists into the restricted Waziristan province to see newly uncovered evidence that Al Qaeda agents involved in Sept. 11 had been there. "Maybe it's a sign of progress that the Pakistanis are volunteering this sort of information to Western reporters. I mean, I'd almost expect that this is the sort of thing they'd be trying to keep under wraps--again, not because there's anyone out there who thinks Al Qaeda isn't in Waziristan, but because concrete proof of that presence (especially concrete proof with such a strong tie to the 9/11 plot) would seem to only increase the pressure on the Pakistani government to do something about it."
  • Clinton's 'Off-Message' Problem  The New Republic's Michael Crowley suspects Clinton, who backtracked the statements, may have a troubling tendency to speak too loosely. "Hillary is beginning to compile a non-trivial list of off-message comments that cause trouble. On a trip to China she dismissed human rights as a factor in US-China relations--apparently not a scripted statement. She got ahead of the Obama White House on talk of a complete Israeli settlement freeze. And this summer she compared the North Koreans to "unruly teenagers" at a time when the administration was arranging a visit to Pyongyang by her husband to free American journalists held there. For a woman so famous for her message discipline, it's more than a little surprising."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.