Agencies – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s charm offensive rolled into a wall of suspicion at one of Pakistan’s top universities on Thursday as students grilled her on whether America was truly ready to be a steadfast partner in a time of crisis.Mrs Clinton, on the second day of a three-day visit aimed at turning around a US-Pakistan relationship under serious strain, was presented with stark evidence of the ‘trust deficit’ that yawns between the two countries, now bound together in the struggle against religious extremism.
‘What guarantee can the Americans give Pakistanis that we can now trust you … and that you guys are not going to be betraying us like you did in the past,’ one student asked at a ‘townhall-style’ meeting Mrs Clinton held at the Government College University in Lahore.
Mrs Clinton, who has sought to use her own personal outreach to overcome rising anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, repeated her conviction that the two countries’ common interests far outweighed their differences.
‘I am well aware that there is a trust deficit,’ she said. ‘My message is that’s not the way it should be. We cannot let a minority of people in both countries determine our relationship.’
Mrs Clinton urged Pakistan’s youth to stand firm against the forces of religious extremism, saying it threatened everything that both Americans and Pakistanis held dear.
US officials have cast Mrs Clinton’s visit to Pakistan as a chance to counter anti-American broadsides from extremist religious leaders and to showcase Clinton’s personal affinity for a country she says she knows and loves deeply.
The students peppered her with questions about Washington’s perceived policy slant towards India, the use of unmanned ‘drones’ to attack targets in Pakistan and whether or not the US would support a treason trial of Gen Pervez Musharraf.
Some of the toughest questions centred on the Kerry-Lugar bill which aims to triple US assistance to Pakistan to some $7 billion over the next five years, but contains conditions which many Pakistanis regard as an affront to their sovereignty.
Mrs Clinton repeated Washington’s argument that the bill’s conditions are merely a measurement of effectiveness — but conceded that ‘we did not do a very good job communication in what our intentions were’.
At separate meetings with senior journalists and business leaders, Mrs Clinton struck an assertive tone, hitting out at the government of Pakistan over Al Qaeda and calling for better management of the economy.
She took issue with Islamabad’s position that the Al Qaeda leadership was not in Pakistan. ‘Al Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002,’ she said.
‘I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to,’ she added.
‘Maybe that’s the case; maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know… As far as we know, they are in Pakistan,’ she added.
She also showed impatience with criticism of the Kerry-Lugar bill and said: ‘At the risk of sounding un-diplomatic, Pakistan has to have internal investment in your public services and your business opportunities,’ Mrs Clinton told businessmen, taking swipe at tax evasion in the cash-strapped country.
‘The percentage of taxes on GDP is among the lowest in the world… We (the United States) tax everything that moves and doesn’t move, and that’s not what we see in Pakistan,’ she said.
‘You do have 180 million people. Your population is projected to be about 300 million. And I don’t know what you’re gonna do with that kind of challenge, unless you start planning right now,’ she said
Article from Dawn News