Clinton Backs Off Pakistan Criticism Before Anxious Lawmakers

By Kate Barrett

Apr 23, 2009 4:56pm

ABC News’ Kirit Radia Reports: One day after she did some prominent finger-wagging in Pakistan’s direction, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dialed back some of her most heated rhetoric about Pakistan’s beleaguered fight against the Taliban and other extremists in that country. After saying yesterday that Pakistan was "abdicating" to the Taliban and extremists, Clinton today said Islamabad was beginning to understand it needs to do more to fight terrorists inside its borders.

The precarious position Pakistan finds itself in was top of mind for many lawmakers at this morning’s House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations hearing. Clinton was confronted by several lawmakers from both parties who expressed concern that the Pakistani government is not willing to fight the advancing Taliban.

"Today the escalating terrorist violence in Pakistan and that government’s inability and unwillingness to confront the extremist threat undermine any progress we have made in Afghanistan and complicates future efforts there," said the panel’s chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-NY.

"I’m concerned that the Pakistani government is cutting deals with extremists without getting anything in return, as evidenced by the recent agreement in the Swat valley. And certainly we know about the news today," Lowey later added, referencing the revelation that the Taliban now control territory just an hour away from Islamabad.

"How do we succeed in Pakistan if the Pakistanis themselves are either unwilling or incapable of making the tough choices and taking the tough action needed to confront the insurgency?" she asked.

"It’s a country of dealmakers, but they don’t keep the deals," said an exasperated Rep. David Obey, D-Wis. "I have absolutely no confidence in the ability of the existing Pakistani government to do one blessed thing."

"If they don’t quit playing it every which way, if the intelligence service in Pakistan doesn’t stop double dealing — that they need to know that we’re not going to be stuck there backing them up forever," Obey added.

"I’m very concerned about the changes that have taken place just in these last few days," agreed Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.

"Where are we headed? Are we going to be in Afghanistan for a second decade? Do we have a military role here other than counterterrorism?" wondered California Democrat Adam Schiff. "I don’t know how we can possibly be funding the Pakistani military if elements of the military or intelligence services are actually working against us and having the effect of killing our troops next door."

Clinton largely agreed, though her most stern words on the matter came during a House hearing yesterday when she said Pakistan was "abdicating" to the Taliban and the extremists.

Today, she referenced those remarks when she explained how the US was as much to blame for the genesis of the Taliban as anyone. "We can point fingers at the Pakistanis, which is — you know, I did some yesterday, frankly," said Clinton. "And it’s merited, because we’re wondering why they don’t just get out there and deal with these people. But the problems we face now, to some extent, we have to take responsibility for having contributed to," she said.

But Clinton said that the Pakistani government is beginning to realize that its principle existential threat exists in domestic extremists.

"I and our administration are deeply concerned by the increasing insurgency that is destabilizing Pakistan," Clinton said. "Changing paradigms and mindsets is not easy. But I do believe that there is an increasing awareness, on the part of not just the Pakistani government but Pakistani people, that this insurgency coming closer and closer to major cities does pose such a threat."

Responding to concerns from several committee members that the United States will remain in Afghanistan too long without markers for progress, Clinton said such markers can be artificial and unhelpful, but noted that the Obama administration will nonetheless outline them and share them with Congress.

"Key to our new strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan is to hold ourselves and our partners accountable, and we are committed to doing that. We obviously are going to set performance measures," she said.

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