ISLAMABAD — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton started a South Asia tour on Sunday aimed at refining the goals of the nearly 9-year-old war in Afghanistan and pushing neighboring nations to work together in the fight against Al Qaeda and Taliban extremists.
Clinton landed in Islamabad where she will underscore the need for Afghan-Pakistani cooperation in winning the war but also announce plans to beef up U.S. development assistance to Pakistan, which is rife with anti-American sentiment.
In talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Sunday and military and civilian officials on Monday, Clinton is seeking to convince Pakistanis the U.S. is committed to the country’s long-term development needs and not just short-term security gains.
This, officials hope, will lead to greater Pakistani cooperation on key U.S. policy goals, particularly combating Pakistan-based militants accused of conspiring to attack the United States, including the failed Times Square bombing, and stepping up action against extremists along the Afghan border.
“To get there we need to change the core of the relationship with Pakistan,” said Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Clinton plans to announce about $500 million in several new development programs — funded by a bill approved by Congress last year to triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan with $1.5 billion a year over five years — that will focus on water, energy, agriculture and health.
These initiatives will mark the second phase of projects begun under a new and enhanced “strategic partnership” that began last year.
Holbrooke noted that when Clinton visited Pakistan last October she had “waded into continually hostile and skeptical crowds.” But he maintained that the new U.S. focus is “producing a change in Pakistani attitudes, first within the government and gradually, more slowly, within the public.”
Still, he and other officials concede, mistrust of America runs deep in Pakistan, particularly over unmanned drone strikes which are aimed at militants but kill or maim civilians and to many Pakistanis represent an unacceptable violation of sovereignty.
Vali Nasr, a Holbrooke deputy, said overcoming the suspicion remains a work in progress.
“We’re beginning to see movement, but this is not going to happen overnight,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to get them aligned over a one-year time period on every single issue and change 30 years of foreign policy of Pakistan on a dime.”
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