US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said on Friday Pakistan needed to take decisive steps against Islamist militancy and that relations between the two allies, tense since the killing of Osama bin Laden, had reached a turning point.
Clinton, the most senior US official to visit Pakistan since US Navy Seals killed the al Qaeda leader on May 2, appeared to be trying to smooth over strains, repeating that there was no evidence that any senior Pakistani officials had known of bin Laden's whereabouts.
But she also said she had asked President Asif Ali Zardari, prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani to do more to fight militants.
“This was an especially important visit because we have reached a turning point,” Clinton said. “We look to the government of Pakistan to take decisive steps in the days ahead.”
She declined to say what those steps were.
Clinton said Pakistani officials had told her “someone, somewhere” had been providing support to bin Laden in Pakistan, but reiterated there was no evidence of any complicity by senior government officials. “We are trying to untangle the puzzle of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. But we have absolutely no reason to believe anyone in the highest level of the government knew that.”
The secretary was unapologetic over the Abbottabad raid. Instead, she noted that Pakistan has a high concentration of militant leaders. “For the past decade, many of the world’s most vicious terrorists, including the most important leaders of the al Qaeda and Taliban, have been living in Pakistan.”
A surge in militant attacks in the recent past in Pakistan, most of them in retaliation to bin Laden’s death, have raised doubts about Islamabad’s ability to quell militancy. In the latest sign of deepening distrust between Washington and Islamabad, Pakistan told the US to halve the number of military trainers in the country.
And US lawmakers have questioned if Pakistan should be receiving billions of dollars in aid. However, a US official said Washington had seen some signs of improved Pakistani cooperation, including the return of the tail section of a helicopter that crashed during the Abbottabad raid and access to bin Laden's wives.