Say what you will about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s inaugural visit to Pakistan this week, but it has not been short on fireworks. Clinton made it clear she has some bones to pick with the Pakistani government, bluntly asserting that it has not been aggressive enough in its pursuit of al Qaeda’s top leaders, who the U.S. government believes are located in the country’s lawless northwest. “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 charged.
Such heated words come at a very delicate moment for the U.S.-Pakistan alliance, with tensions between the two countries running high. In the U.S., the Obama administration has been plotting a new Afghanistan strategy that will undoubtedly have huge implications for Pakistan, while Congress has been trying to craft an acceptable economic aid package for Pakistan to stabilize the country. Meanwhile, the Pakistani military finds itself in the second week of a controversial U.S.-backed campaign to root out Taliban militants in South Waziristan, near the Afghan border.
But Clinton hasn’t been the only one hurling accusations or asking pointed questions during her visit. At a heated question-and-answer session with Pakistani university students, Clinton was asked why Pakistan should trust the U.S. to remain a long-term partner in maintaining the stability of Afghanistan. After all, the questioner pointed out, the U.S. largely abandoned both Afghanistan and Pakistan in the late 1980s after helping drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Clinton called that a “fair criticism,” but added the U.S. and Pakistan needed to look to the future, not the past—essentially implying that ‘this time around’ would be different.
That sort of attitude may fly from an American point of view, but from a Pakistani perspective—where memories of betrayal remain fresh even after 20 years—it will not be so easy to turn the page.