Working with Pakistan is a strategic necessity for the United States, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday, even as she pressed Islamabad to act more decisively on counter-terrorism.
Praising Pakistan as "a good partner" in global efforts to fight terrorism, Clinton sought to blunt U.S. anger at the discovery that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden lived there for years before U.S. commandos killed him in a raid on May 2.
U.S. lawmakers, skeptical that Pakistani officials did not know of bin Laden's presence, want to cut U.S. aid to Pakistan, which the White House views as vital to counter-terrorism and to hopes of stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan.
Clinton acknowledged that the two countries have disagreed on how hard to fight al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban fighters and other militants, but made clear she saw no choice but to work with Pakistan, saying it would overcome "these near-term challenges."
Among those challenges is Pakistan's decision to tell the United States to halve the number of military trainers stationed in the country, the latest sign of growing distrust.
"We do have a set of expectations that we are looking for the Pakistani government to meet but I want to underscore, in conclusion, that it is not as though they have been on the sidelines," Clinton told a news conference in Paris.
"They have been actively engaged in their own bitter fight with these terrorist extremists."
FRIEND BETTER THAN ENEMY
The killing of bin Laden by U.S. special forces in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad has sparked a wave of militant attacks. Thirteen people were killed in the latest suspected suicide bombing in a northwestern town on Thursday, police said.
The attack on bin Laden was profoundly embarrassing to the Pakistani government, which U.S. officials have long privately accused of failing to do enough to fight militants who attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
"There have been times when we have had disagreements. There have been times when we've wanted to push harder and for various reasons they have not. Those differences are real. They will continue," Clinton said.
"But the fact of the matter is that the international community has been able to kill more terrorists on Pakistani soil than anyplace else in the world," she added. "We could not have done that without Pakistani cooperation."
She appeared to be referring to U.S. drone attacks and covert action against militants, which Pakistani authorities have publicly denounced in response to public hostility, but privately condoned, according to Western officials.
"I believe strongly it is in our national security interest to have a comprehensive, long-term partnership with the government and people of Pakistan," Clinton said.
Some security analysts make the case that a half-hearted Pakistani partner is better than none.
"Despite this affront (bin Laden's presence in Pakistan), the United States should recognize the importance of maintaining Pakistan as an unpalatable friend rather than an implacable adversary or, worse, seeing it tumble toward becoming a failed state," the Washington-based Center for a New American Security think-tank said in an analysis this month.
Among other things, the United States wants Pakistan to help promote reconciliation in Afghanistan so as to help the United States begin to withdraw U.S. troops in July and completely hand off security responsibility to Afghans in 2014.
(Reporting by Leigh Thomas and Arshad Mohammed, Writing by Paul Taylor and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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