The United States ups the ante, again.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that her country believes al Qaeda kingpin Ayman al Zawahiri is hiding somewhere in Pakistan.
“The US will go after militant groups in Pakistan,” the top US diplomat told an interactive session at the La Martiniere School for Girls in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal on the second day of her three-day tour.
“We want to disable al Qaeda. We have made lots of progress,” she added.
Al Zawahiri’s predecessor Osama bin Laden was killed in a top-secret raid by US special forces in a compound in Abbottabad in May, last year. The unilateral raid brought to the fore the mistrust that exists between the two allies in the global war against terrorism.
Secretary Clinton said it was believed that al Zawahiri, an Egyptian cleric, was in Pakistan. “There are several significant leaders still on the run. Al Zawahiri, who inherited the (al Qaeda) leadership from Bin Laden, is somewhere, we believe, in Pakistan. We want to go after them,” he added.
In a move that was likely to sour already fraught Pakistan-US tensions, Clinton said Islamabad was not doing enough to tackle terrorism. She added that Washington was keeping up pressure on Islamabad to crack down on the main accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.
“Pakistan has lost far more people than India and the US (due to terrorism). Thirty thousand lives have been lost in Pakistan in terrorist attacks. It is in their interest that Pakistan should deal with the problem of terrorism,” she said.
Clinton said she had personally authorised a $10 million bounty for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of Hafiz Saeed.
Saeed’s militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is accused of masterminding the Mumbai attacks which killed 166 people. Earlier, confusion had reigned over the bounty when US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter insisted that the United States was not offering it.
Clinton said she was “well aware that there have not yet been steps taken by the Pakistani government” that could help in securing Hafiz Saeed’s conviction.
“We’re going to be pushing that point. So it’s a way of raising the visibility and pointing out to those who are associated with him that there is a cost for that,” Clinton said referring to the bounty. “You have to go after those who are trying to kill you. You have to be focused on that … We want everybody who is associated with that (Mumbai attack) brought to justice. And it may take longer than any one of us like. But we are going to be standing with you and trying to make that happen,” Clinton said to applause. “We are all aware that Pakistan has not done as much as the US and India wanted to fight terrorism,” she added.
Oil imports from Iran
Secretary Clinton also leaned on India to cut its imports of Iranian oil further, and said Washington may not make a decision on whether to exempt New Delhi from financial sanctions for another two months. She said the United States was encouraged by the steps its ally had taken to reduce its reliance on Iranian oil, but that ‘even more’ was needed. New Delhi does not want to be seen to be caving in to US pressure and also has to satisfy the fast-growing energy demands of its economy, Asia’s third-largest, and look after its own strategic interests: Iran provides it with access to Afghanistan. Clinton’s trip coincided with a visit by an Iranian trade delegation, which was in Delhi to discuss trade via a rupee mechanism set up to skirt sanctions. US officials played down the timing.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM REUTERS)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2012.