United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said conditioning aid to Pakistan unless it cracks down on the Lashkar-e-Tayiba -- responsible for the horrific 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks -- is untenable at the present time.
When pressed by Congressman Ed Royce, California Republican, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, as to why such conditionality in her view is untenable, Clinton rationalised that it could jeopardise the growing rapprochement between India and Pakistan in recent months.
Clinton, who was appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss her recent visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan, told Royce, who is also the GOP co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India, that, "As you referenced in the beginning of your remarks, we have had intensive discussions with our Indian counterparts," on the issue of terrorism perpetrated by the LeT from its bases in Pakistan.
"On my last trip to India," she said, "Director of National Intelligence Clapper, went with me and had many in-depth conversations. So, I do not want to commit at this time to taking such a path because I think it is important that there be further consideration of all of the implications."
Clinton noted, "Certainly, every time we meet with the Pakistanis, we press them on the LeT -- about the continuing failure in our view to fulfill all of the requirements necessary for prosecution related to the Mumbai attacks and we will continue to do so."
Royce, in his questioning of Clinton had recalled that, "My terrorism subcommittee recently held a hearing on US-Indian counterterrorism cooperation and a recommendation that came out of that hearing was that we condition our assistance to Pakistan on their engagement in terms of their attempt to shut down this organisation."
The lawmaker spoke of LeT's campus "that continues to recruit," and noted that "it's an oddity because originally it was an organisation that focused on Kashmir, now it's got global aspirations."
Royce said, "We've made arrests here in the United States (of LeT operatives) and so forth," and hence asked Clinton to "consider making that recognition in terms of their scorecard reportedly we keep with Pakistan."
He argued that "one of the concerns I have if we don't elevate this issue, if we don't drive this point home now, it seems to me that some of the ISI in their persistence to the LeT in orchestrating these attacks, are setting in motion the types of policies that can lead to conflict between India and Pakistan."
"And, I almost wonder, when you look at the Mumbai attacks, when you look at the attacks in Delhi, and you find the connection to ISI or to former ISI officials involved in the operations, and when you look at some of the other operations, when you find out ISI was involved in the training, it then leads you to question what's the intention from an intelligence perspective of sending in a force allowing them sanctuary, allowing them the base on your home territory and then carrying out civilian terrorist attacks on a neighbouring country."
Royce warned that "it would seem to me that the potential for conflict created by this kind of trip-wire is very, very great, and that is why I think this has to be elevated in terms of the discussions with Pakistan."
Thus, he reiterated that "it has to be conditional. It can't be the case where Pakistan says, Well, we are helping with any terrorist organisation that is targeting the leadership in Pakistan, but we are going to allow ISI agents to assist other terrorist organisations that are targeting different states or as (now retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Admiral (Mike) Mullen said, targeting US troops and they get this kind of cooperation."
Royce argued that "it has to be broadened to include in my view, the LeT," and asked Clinton if she believes "there is a potential for this spinning out of control in terms of the attacks that have been carried out on the capital of the major financial center of India by the LeT."
Clinton acknowledged that "of course, we worry about it very much and we discussed it in great depth with our Indian counterparts because it is first and foremost a concern of theirs."
"It is obviously also concerning to us, but we have designated them (the LeT as a foreign terrorist organisation), we are certainly raising their continuing presence and activities on a regular basis."
But Clinton in knocking down any intent to condition assistance to Pakistan on Islamabad's shutting down LeT operations and facilities, asserted that "our policy has to be carefully coordinated with the Indian concerns."
"As you know, India is trying to improve relations with Pakistan and there are actually very productive discussions going on," she said.
To another question by Congressman Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, and also a two-term GOP chair of the India Caucus on how the US can facilitate India-Pakistan rapprochement, Clinton said relations between Delhi and Islamabad were even more important that Washington's bilateral relationship with Islamabad.
She said, "The real game-changer in the region is not so much our bilateral relationship, but the relationship between Pakistan and India. And, the more that there can be progress, the more likely there can be even more progress."
Clinton said, "We have in Pakistan today, a leadership, both civilian and military, that wants to see progress with India and we have the same on the Indian side."
She also pointed out to what she said "were successful visits, just in the last several months at the foreign minister level, the commerce minister level, and announcements have been made to try to streamline visas for businesses, to accelerate movement across borders, and then the most-favored-nation status (to India granted by Pakistan recently) is really an important development."
"So, we encourage it, and we try to tell both sides how much it will change their relationship," she added.
Clinton asserted that "I firmly believe greater regional and economic integration would revolutionise the economy in Pakistan. Now, India is a huge market and Pakistan produces things that India needs, but they don't get in to India in any direct and cost effective way."
"So the more we can do that, the better," she said.