Clinton urges Pak to fight Taliban

NEW YORK : US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States strongly supports Pakistan at a "critical juncture," but acknowledged that a lack of trust is impeding cooperation.

In a speech at the New York inaugural benefit of the newly created American Pakistan Foundation, Clinton said Pakistan needs to build up democracy, while facing down the Taliban and other militant groups.

"To achieve the long term progress that Pakistan seeks and deserves, we must go further in two areas: helping Pakistan to strengthen its democratic institutions and improve security by defeating the extremist groups who are waging a campaign of violence against Pakistan and threaten stability in South Asia and beyond," Clinton said.

The US foreign policy chief noted that Pakistan's military had taken on Taliban groups inside the country, but not militants using Pakistan as a rear base to attack US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan.

"There are other terrorist groups who have set up camp in Pakistan, where they are plotting global attacks and waging war against the troops from 42 nations... in Afghanistan," she said.

"Pakistan has a critical role and an abiding interest in helping this international effort," she said.

"We will continue to encourage the Pakistani government to take affirmative steps toward the goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al-Qaeda and the other terrorist groups responsible for so much suffering."

US pressure on Pakistan's government, as well as secretive US military operations there -- particularly the use of missile-firing drones to assassinate alleged Al-Qaeda leaders -- are controversial among Pakistanis.

Clinton acknowledged that many Pakistanis mistrust US intentions in the volatile country, which borders rival India and Afghanistan.

During a trip there in October, she encountered "the skepticism felt by many," she said. "This trust deficit holds us back from working together as well as we could."

But Clinton assured that Washington did not seek to undermine Pakistan's sovereignty or to "override the government's judgments or subvert the people's will."

She said that the country had the potential to "become a beacon of democracy, a model of development" and that Washington aimed only to help this goal.

"We come as a partner, not a patron," she said to applause from guests in the ornate Cipriani restaurant in central Manhattan.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Clinton saw the American Pakistan Foundation as a group that would be able to emulate other powerful Diaspora organizations in the United States.

The honorary co-chairs of the foundation are former secretary of state Colin Powell and former Pakistani premier Moeen Qureshi.