Clinton takes advice on Pakistan last day

Last Updated: Fri, Oct 30, 2009 09:00 hrs

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heard advice from Pakistani elders Friday, wrapping up a diplomatic visit overshadowed by an outburst against the government over Al-Qaeda and a devastating attack.

Clinton has spent three days in the troubled nuclear-armed Muslim state, which President Barack Obama has put at the heart of the war on Al-Qaeda and where increasing attacks have killed 2,400 people in two years.

Kicking off a last day of public diplomacy, the US diplomat held open-air talks with representatives from the country's northwest, which borders Afghanistan and where areas are thick with Al-Qaeda-linked and Taliban militias.

Clinton has focused on trying to strengthen the civilian government and counter rising public anti-Americanism, but has been frustrated by fears that a 7.5 billion dollar non-military aid bill violates Pakistan's sovereignty.

"So many people in Pakistan think we are not helping at all and that's incredibly frustrating for us," she said in Islamabad, considered far more secure than the northwest.

"We're changing our aid approach because we need to do things that are highly visible in order to restore the awareness," she said.

One party leader in the northwest provincial assembly assailed Clinton, saying US force was trapping the region in the stone age and advising the United States to negotiate an end to conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Your presence in the region is not good for peace because it stirs up frustration and irritation among the people," lawmaker Maulvi Kifiyat Ullah told Clinton, in remarks translated from Urdu.

"God has given you force, if wisdom can also be added, we can turn this world into a garden, get out of the stone age, start negotiations in Afghanistan, then in Pakistan," he added.

Clinton welcomed the prospect of negotiations and defended the US-led operation in Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban regime after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"We agree on negotiations and wisdom, but we could not leave such a blatant attack unanswered after we had tried to resolve it peacefully. We look for a chance to do exactly what you propose," she said.

Her measured tone contrasted with occasions when she appeared to lose patience during a face-to-face with senior editors and business leaders in the eastern city of Lahore at the tail end of a punishing schedule on Thursday.

"Al-Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002," Clinton told the editors, taking issue with Islamabad's official line that it doubts Osama bin Laden and his senior lieutenants are in Pakistan.

"I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to," she added.

There was no immediate public response from Pakistan. A military statement released after her talks with army chief of staff General Ashfaq Kayani said only that they "exchanged candid views on matters of mutual interest".

Kayani's troops are pressing a major offensive against Taliban sanctuaries in South Waziristan, part of the tribal badlands on the Afghan border where US officials accuse Al-Qaeda of plotting attacks on the West.

The army said troops were closing in on Kanigurram, described as a base of Uzbek militants and a Tehreek-e-Taliban operational centre, despite concern from rights groups of a "catastrophe" unless aid reaches trapped civilians.

The body count rose further from Wednesday's huge car bomb that devastated a crowded market in Peshawar, underscoring the gravity of the Islamist threat.

The remains of a child were lifted out of the wreckage on Friday, pushing the total number of children dead after the attack to 24, along with 31 women.

Fire destroyed about half a dozen buildings and rescue teams are still working to remove the debris in the narrow streets around a market in the conservative Muslim city, which lies on the edge of the tribal belt.

Militants also pressed on with a campaign to destroy schools in the northwest, blowing up a state-run high school for boys and a clinic in Shahukhel village, said chief of Hangu district administration, Gul Wali Khan.