Clinton takes initiatives to Pakistan

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in
Islamabad on Sunday for high-level deliberations with Pakistani leaders, the
latest in a series of encounters that the Obama administration hopes will chip
away at decades of suspicion between Pakistan and the United States.

Mrs. Clinton was to announce a raft of initiatives to help
Pakistan in public health, water distribution and agriculture, to be funded by
$500 million in American economic aid. Among other things, the United States
will build a 60-bed hospital in Karachi and help farmers export their mangoes.

Yet these projects, however beneficial to this economically
fragile country, do not disguise several nagging sources of friction between
the two sides. American officials still question Pakistan’s commitment to root
out Taliban insurgents in its frontier areas, its motives in reaching out to
war-torn Afghanistan and its determination to expand its own nuclear program.

Pakistan plans to buy two nuclear reactors from China — a
deal that alarms the United States because it is cloaked in secrecy and is
being conducted outside the global nonproliferation regime. Administration
officials said they did not know if Mrs. Clinton planned to raise the purchase.

Working on the relationship

Relations could be further tested if the Obama
administration decides to place a major Pakistani insurgent group, the Haqqani
network, on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Islamabad
maintains ties to the group through its intelligence service, and it is seeking
to exploit those connections as a way to extend its influence over Afghanistan.

For all that, tensions between the two sides have ebbed
since Mrs. Clinton’s last visit here in October, when she was peppered with
hostile questions in public meetings and bluntly suggested that people in the
Pakistani government know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

“We needed to change the core of the relationship with
Pakistan,” said Richard Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan
and Pakistan. “The evolution of the strategic dialogue, and the fact that we
are delivering, is producing a change in Pakistani attitudes.”

Mr. Holbrooke noted a U-turn in Pakistan’s policy on
issuing visas to American diplomats. For months, Pakistani officials had held
up those applications, creating a huge backlog and frustrating the United
States. But Pakistan issued 450 visas in the last five days, he said.

Mr. Holbrooke conceded that public-opinion polls toward the
United States had yet to show much of a change. Mrs. Clinton may well receive
more criticism on Monday at a town-hall meeting in Islamabad. Her visit, which
was not announced due to security concerns, is being conducted under tight
security.

More ‘convergence’

Vali Nasr, a senior adviser to Mr. Holbrooke, said it was
unrealistic to expect “to change 30 years of foreign policy of Pakistan on a
dime.” But he said, “On foreign policy issues, we’re seeing a lot more
convergence.”

The United States is encouraged by the burgeoning dialogue
between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Pakistani leaders, including
the chief of the staff of the army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Any
resolution of the war, Mr. Holbrooke said, must involve Pakistan.

While American officials would like to see a more
aggressive Pakistani military push in North Waziristan, the stronghold of the
Haqqani network, they praise the military’s campaigns in South Waziristan and
the Swat Valley, where Taliban insurgents had also made gains.

Pakistan’s battle against insurgents has exacted a fearful
civilian toll. Last week, a suicide bomber killed 45 people, and injured 175,
in an attack on a 1,000-year-old Sufi shrine in Lahore. Many Pakistanis blame
the American-led war in Afghanistan for fomenting anti-Pakistan terrorism.

Protesters call for war’s end

A coalition of protest groups issued a statement Sunday,
timed to Mrs. Clinton’s arrival, which calls for an end to the war in
Afghanistan and for Americans and Pakistanis who are involved in clandestine
air strikes on Pakistani targets to be tried for war crimes.

Mrs. Clinton was to meet General Kayani on Monday, after
meetings on Sunday with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf
Raza Gillani. She was also scheduled to meet Pakistani business leaders and the
head of the Pakistani opposition, Nawaz Sharif.

Mrs. Clinton has brought a shopping-bag full of commitments
for Pakistan, drawn from the $7.5 billion in non-military aid, over five years,
pledged by Congress last year. The emphasis is on basic services like
electricity and water, politically-charged issues in this country, particularly
during the hot summer. “Our commitment is broad and deep,” said Rajiv Shah, the
administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, who is
with Mrs. Clinton. “We will not do what we’ve done in
the past.”

Administration
officials said the project to upgrade Pakistan’s creaky power grid, which
involves building hydroelectric dams and rehabilitating power plants, had
helped reduce chronic power outages. But on the day Mrs. Clinton landed,
television reports here warned of further outages.

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