In the filled-to-capacity room at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was subjected to a barrage of questions about Afghanistan and Pakistan at the hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Held barely 12 hours after US President Barack Obama announced his plans to withdraw 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, Secretary Clinton was pressed on the new most important issue: Pakistan.
Secretary Clinton, who described the US-Pakistan relationship as frustrating, said that they were not stepping back from the relationship. But she also said that the US is not prepared to continue the same levels of military aid to Pakistan, unless it sees some changes in the relationship.
“When it comes to our military aid, we are not prepared to continue providing that at the pace we were providing it unless and until we see some steps taken,” Clinton said. She didn’t specify the steps, but stressed it was time for the US and Pakistan to ensure their interests and actions are aligned.
In her opening remarks, she said: “We cannot walk away from this relationship and ignore the consequences, for all the reasons that Senator Richard Lugar outlined in his opening statement: Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state sitting at the crossroads of a strategic region. And we have seen this movie before. We have seen the cost of disengaging from the region. As [US Defence] Secretary Robert Gates, who was there at that time, has stressed, we cannot repeat the mistakes of 1989.”
In response to a question from a senator, Clinton said, “We have to engage, work with and continue to influence Pakistani behaviour”. However, said Secretary Clinton, the US cannot solve all of Pakistan’s problems.
On Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton said that the military, diplomatic and development surge has worked. She added that the cost of one year of civilian aid in Afghanistan was equal to 10 days of war.
In her responses vis a vis Pakistan’s stance on Afghanistan, Clinton said that Pakistan wants strategic depth in Afghanistan, and an Afghanistan that did not pose a threat to Islamabad. “Pakistan does not want Afghanistan to become a satellite of India”.
Clinton also underscored the importance of Pakistan’s role at the table for reconciliation in Afghanistan, and the role of other neighbours. (With additional input from Reuters)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2011.