South Asia

Clinton raises pressure on Pakistan to fight militants

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Media captionHillary Clinton is on her second visit to Islamabad as secretary of state

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worries all the time about the possibility that an attack against the US could emanate from Pakistan and has called on Islamabad to take further, specific actions against militant networks.

Without entering into the details, she seemed to indicate in a BBC interview that the US wanted Pakistan to do more to tackle the Haqqani network, a branch of the Afghan Taliban which operates in Pakistan and is widely suspected of having close ties to Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI.

During the interview at the US embassy compound in Islamabad, Mrs Clinton also said the state department was looking into the possibility of listing the Haqqani network as a terrorist organisation.

The violent and feared network operates along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan and is seen as the main threat to US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.

"We have designated a number of their leaders over the years as terrorists, and we're now looking at whether and how to describe the group and if it meets the legal criteria for naming it," she said.

Since the network is a loose grouping and not a formal organisation as such, it's unclear how the designation would be made.

Clinton's warning

The idea of listing the Haqqani network as a terrorist organisation was first raised by Democratic Senator Carl Levin, the chairman for the Armed Services Committee in the Senate.

The New York Times also reported this week that General David Petraeus, the new US military commander in Afghanistan, was pushing for top leaders from the organisation to be designated as terrorists.

But Mrs Clinton's comments mark the first time that an American official has publicly confirmed that the US is considering the move.

It's one that could upset the Pakistanis, who have so far failed to take real action against the Haqqani network, and are thought to be keeping the group as leverage to increase their influence inside Afghanistan ahead of an eventual American withdrawal.

Senator Levin also called on the US to increase drone strikes against the Haqqani network.

Mrs Clinton would not be drawn into discussing drone attacks, a policy the US does not officially acknowledge. But she repeated that Washington wanted to see greater Pakistani activity against "these networks".

She said: "There are still additional steps that we are asking and expecting the Pakistanis to take. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that should an attack against the United States be traced to be Pakistani it would have a very devastating impact on our relationship."

Deep mistrust

But Mrs Clinton said that progress had been made in addressing the trust deficit between the two countries.

Image caption The Taliban are active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan

"All in all we are making progress but I don't want to oversell it, because every day I know how much more needs to be done," she said.

"But there is openness and a level of candour that is more helpful in dealing with our ongoing challenges."

Mrs Clinton has come to Islamabad, on her second visit as secretary of state, armed with $550m (£360m) for water, agricultural and energy projects to chip away some more at the deep-seated mistrust of America in Pakistan.

Only 17% of Pakistanis have a positive view of the US, according to a poll last month by the Pew Research Center's Global attitudes project.

Pakistan is at the bottom of the list of countries with a favourable opinion of the US, along with Turkey and Egypt.

People-to-people diplomacy

The $550m in funding will go to government conducted projects, as well as NGOs and the private sector.

The money comes from the Kerry Lugar Berman Bill, which was voted into law last year. It allocates $1.5bn a year over five years in aid money to Pakistan.

One of the key areas the US wants to help develop is the energy sector.

There are concerns in the US about accountability and oversight of how the money is spent in Pakistan, a country with a reputation for corruption and waste. Government offices and the army owe $2bn in unpaid electricity bills to a cash-strapped national power company.

Mrs Clinton's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, also acknowledged that while interaction with the government was getting better, public opinion polls didn't show much of a change.

Mrs Clinton herself faced a hostile public when she was in Pakistan in October.

During two townhall meetings, she fielded tough questions from students, who doubted whether the Americans were really their long-term friends.

Mrs Clinton will hold another townhall meeting on Monday - the tone of the questions then might be the best indicator of whether her people-to-people diplomacy is having any tangible impact in swaying Pakistanis.