Clinton: Pakistan realizing threat from insurgents

Fresno, CA Clinton told a House appropriations subcommittee that the Obama administration is working to persuade the Pakistani government that its traditional focus on India as a threat has to shift to Islamic extremists.

"Changing paradigms and mindsets is not easy, but I do believe there is an increasing awareness of not just the Pakistani government but the Pakistani people that this insurgency coming closer and closer to major cities does pose such a threat," she said.

On Wednesday, Clinton told another House committee that in her view the Pakistani government is "basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists." She was responding to questions about the Pakistani government's decision to allow the imposition of Islamic law in the northwest of the country in exchange for a Taliban cease-fire -- a move critics say amounts to ceding territory to the extremists. Taliban militants have pushed out from the Swat Valley to villages as close as 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Thursday noted Clinton's earlier remarks and said, alluding to Pakistan, "I think the news over the past several days is very disturbing. The administration is extremely concerned."

Clinton said Thursday that the administration's special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, has had "painful, specific" conversations with a wide range of Pakistanis about the need to act more effectively against the insurgents.

"There is a significant opportunity here for us working in collaboration with the Pakistani government to help them get the support they need to make that mind-set change and act more vigorously against this threat," she said, adding, "There are no promises. They have to do it."

Clinton encountered skepticism from some committee members who expressed doubt about succeeding in Pakistan. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., told her he worries that the administration's policy agenda -- domestic and foreign -- could be "devoured" by the Pakistan-Afghanistan problem.

"I have absolutely no confidence in the ability of the existing Pakistan government to do one blessed thing," Obey said.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the committee chairwoman, expressed similar concerns.

"The escalating terrorist violence in Pakistan and that government's inability and unwillingness to confront the extremist threat undermine any progress we have made in Afghanistan and complicates future efforts there," Lowey said.

Over the past seven years, the U.S. government has provided Pakistan with about $12 billion in aid, of which about two-thirds was from a variety of security-related programs, the rest as economic assistance. Nearly half of the $12 billion was from a Pentagon fund created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to reimburse Pakistan for its support of U.S. military operations in the region.

President Barack Obama on March 27 called on Congress to pass legislation authorizing $1.5 billion in new aid to Pakistan every year for the next five years, but he also said there would be no "blank check" and the Pakistani government must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out violent extremists.

Obey asked whether a year was a reasonable time for determining whether the Pakistani government was showing enough initiative and resolve to merit continued U.S. financial and political support. Clinton said she could not put a timetable on how long it might take to get results, but said the administration intends to provide Congress with benchmarks for measuring progress.

"We want to see progress on these measurements, and we want to see the progress beginning and continuing, and not stopping and starting," she said.

One measure of progress in Pakistan, Clinton said, is the extent to which the Pakistani military is shifting its troops from the Indian border to the Afghan border, where the Taliban threat has been expanding.

Clinton was appearing before the appropriations panel that is reviewing the administration's request for $7.1 billion in additional funds for the State Department this budget year. Of that total, $497 million would be for State Department support of Pakistan and $980 million would be for Afghanistan. About $482 million would be for Iraq.

Clinton defended Obama's effort to engage diplomatically with Iran, calling it a reasonable alternative to what she called a failed Bush administration policy.

"We tried the policy of total isolation for eight years," she said in a rising voice, "and it did not deter Iran one bit. The nuclear program has continued unabated. They weren't supporting Hamas before. They are supporting Hamas now."

Clinton said it remains unclear whether international pressure on Iran will compel it to change course.

"Sanctions are a tool for us to leverage pressure on the Iranian regime to change behavior that we obviously consider serious threats," she said. "And so we are talking with our partners about additional sanctions as part of an incentives-disincentives approach to Iran."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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