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Pak should take decisive steps to flush out al-Qaeda: Clinton

Rezaul H Laskar, PTI

Islamabad, May 27 The US has asked Pakistan to take "decisive steps" to flush out al-Qaeda elements and to act against militants waging war in Afghanistan from Pakistani soil, as top leaders of the two countries held talks here aimed at easing tensions that have affected their ties.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who arrived here this morning on an surprise visit to address tensions generated by the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2 lauded Pakistan's contributions to the war on terror but made it clear that more needs to be done to counter Taliban and al-Qaeda elements.

"Today we discussed in even greater detail cooperation to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and to drive them from Pakistan and the region.

"We will do our part and we look to the government of Pakistan to take decisive steps in the days ahead," Clinton told a news conference after talks with the top civil and military leadership.

Pakistan must also be a part of US plans for the reconciliation process in war-torn Afghanistan, she said.

The US is supporting an Afghan-led process that seeks to split the Taliban from al-Qaeda and reconcile militants who renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution.

"There is momentum toward political reconciliation in Afghanistan but the insurgency continues to operate from safe havens here in Pakistan," Clinton said.

Pakistan, she said, "has a responsibility to help us help Afghanistan by preventing insurgents from waging war from Pakistani territory".

"This was an especially important visit because we have reached a turning point. Osama bin Laden is dead but al-Qaeda and its syndicate of terror remain a serious threat to us both," she said.

The US wants to defeat violent extremism and end the violence in Afghanistan while also ensuring a secure, stable, democratic and prosperous future for Pakistan, she added.

Referring to the US raid that killed the al-Qaeda chief and led to bilateral relations plunging to a new low, Clinton said "there is absolutely no evidence that anyone at the highest levels of the Pakistan government knew that bin Laden was living just miles from where we are today".

However, Clinton said her Pakistani interlocutors "were very forthcoming in saying that somebody, somewhere was providing some kind of support" to bin Laden and that an investigation was now underway.

"We have offered to share whatever information we come across and we intend to be consulting closely as we go forward, with them providing information they are finding and us reciprocating," she said.

 The US recently got access to bin Laden's compound due to the cooperation of the ISI and the military and the two sides are working to "untangle the puzzle of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad", she said.

Clinton arrived on the previously unannounced visit after the ground was prepared by US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman.

Tight security was put in place for the visit and Clinton's motorcade of 20 armoured vehicles drove at high speed from Rawalpindi to Presidential palace as helicopters hovered overhead.

Clinton, the most senior US official to visit Islamabad since the killing of bin Laden, noted that anti-American sentiments were widespread in Pakistan despite the size-able amount of aid provided to Islamabad by Washington.

"America cannot and should not solve Pakistan's problems. That's up to Pakistan. But in solving its problems, Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make problems disappear."

While acknowledging that no nation has sacrificed more lives in the campaign against violent extremism than Pakistan, Clinton also remarked: "For the past decade, many of the world's most vicious terrorists, including al-Qaeda's most important leaders, have been living in Pakistan from here they have targeted innocent people all over the world..."

There can be no peace or stability in Pakistan unless extremists are "removed either by coming to their senses and recognising that they should be part of a political process" or they are "killed or captured," she said.

Questioned about reports that Pakistan has asked the US to reduce the number of American military personnel present in the country, Clinton said such security assistance is provided in "coordination and at the request of the Pakistani government and military".

"We have not noticed any official statement from the government of Pakistan that in any way would demonstrate that they're not going to be continuing to request the kind of assistance that we provide and we're going to continue to offer what we believe is in our mutual best interest," she said.

Admiral Mullen said the level of US military support goes "up and down over time".

There have been Pakistani requests to "reduce those numbers" and both sides were "working our way through" the issue, he said.



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