Hillary Clinton regales Pakistani students

LAHORE: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said today that Pakistan had little choice but to take a more aggressive approach, starting last summer, to combating Taliban and other extremist forces that threaten to destabilise the country.

In a lively give-and-take with students at the Government College of Lahore, Clinton said inaction by the government would have amounted to ceding ground to terrorists. “If you want to see your territory shrink, that’s your choice,” she said.

Dozens of students rushed to line up for the microphone when the session began. Their questions were not hostile, but showed a strong sense of doubt that the US can be a reliable

and trusted partner for Pakistan.

Clinton met with the students on the second day of a three-day visit to Pakistan, her first as secretary of state. Shortly after she arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday, a car bomb exploded in a market crowded with women and children in Peshawar, killing 105. It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan since 2007.

Clinton’s visit is designed to get maximum public exposure to improve America’s image in a country where many people dislike and distrust the United States. As a way of repudiating past US policies toward Pakistan, Clinton told the students “there is a huge difference” between the Obama administration’s approach and that of former President George W Bush.

“I spent my entire eight years in the Senate opposing him,” she said to a burst of applause from the audience of several hundred students. “

So, to me, it’s like daylight and dark.” Clinton likened Pakistan’s situation — with Taliban forces taking over large parts of the Swat Valley and in areas along the Afghan border — to a theoretical advance of terrorists into the United States from across the Canadian border. It would be unthinkable, she said, for the US government to decide, “Let them have Washington (state)” first, then Montana, then the sparsely populated Dakotas, because those states are far from the major centres of population and power on the East Coast.

Clinton was responding to a student who suggested that Washington was forcing Pakistan to use military force on its own territory. It was one of several questions from the students that raised doubts about the relationship between the United States and Pakistan.