Hillary Clinton said today that relations between the United States and Pakistan have reached a turning point after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and Islamabad must make “decisive steps” in the days ahead to fight terrorism.
The US Secretary of State made the remarks after meeting Pakistani civilian and military leaders on a brief trip to Pakistan meant to repair relations that have been badly frayed by the May 2 US raid that killed the al-Qaida leader who had been hiding in a comfortable house in an army town not far from the capital, Islamabad.
The Pakistanis were angry that they were not told of the raid in advance, while the location of bin Laden’s hideout raised US suspicions that members of the security services must have known his whereabouts.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who also was in Pakistan, was blunt.
“I think we all realise the challenges under which this relationship now labours,” he told reporters. "We had very candid discussions, the kind of discussion two friends should be able to have at times like this.”
Ms Clinton and Adm Mullen are the highest-ranking US officials to confer with Pakistani leaders since the raid, which splintered already fragile support in both countries for the agenda of co-operation that senior US and Pakistani officials say they want.
A portion of the meeting between Ms Clinton and President Asif Ali Zardari briefly witnessed by reporters was stiff and awkward, with no smiles among the US delegation.
Ms Clinton said relations “had reached a turning point”, but she thought Pakistan knew the stakes involved.
She said it was “up to the government of Pakistan to take decisive steps in the days ahead” against militants, but did not give any details.
Ms Clinton also pointed to the reality facing the United States as it contemplates how to deal with Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nexus for extremism and terrorism in a strategically vital region.
The US relies on Pakistan for transit and supply routes for the war in Afghanistan and will need its help if Afghanistan is to broker a peace deal with Taliban militants that can end the war. The country is believed to have influence over several Afghan insurgent commanders.
Ms Clinton acknowledged this, saying: “For reconciliation to succeed Pakistan must be part of this process.”
The US visit comes a day after a Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber detonated a pick-up truck loaded with explosives near several government offices in north-west Pakistan, killing at least 32 people. Thursday’s blast was the latest in a series of attacks to hit the country since the bin Laden raid.