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'We've had a challenging relationship with Pak'

August 17, 2011 08:49 IST

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pointed out that Washington's current difficulties with Islamabad are nothing new and a repeat of earlier disagreements.

But at a joint appearance with Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at a forum hosted by the National Defence University, Clinton argued that Pakistan's does not always cooperate with the US even on things deemed to be in their best interests.

She also said that for all of the reports of rampant corruption and perfidy of the Hamid Karzai regime in Afghanistan, she still trusts President Karzai.

Clinton said, "We consider our relationship with Pakistan to be of paramount importance. We think it is very much in America's interests. We think it is in the long-term interest of Pakistan for us to work through what are very difficult problems in that relationship. And this is not anything new. We've had a challenging relationship with Pakistan going back decades."

She recalled, "We have kind of been deeply involved with Pakistan, as we were during the 1980s with the support for the Mujahideen, the old Charlie Wilson's war issue. And if you remember the end of Charlie Wilson's War, the Soviet Union is defeated and Charlie Wilson and others are saying, well, now let's build schools, let's work in Afghanistan, let's support Pakistan. And our political decision was we're exhausted, we're done, we accomplished our mission, which was to break the back of the Soviet Union; we're out of there."

"So I think the Pakistanis have a viewpoint that has to be shown some respect: Are you going to be with us or not, because you keep in, you go out? And it is…"

When moderator Frank Sesno, professor of media studies at George Washington University interrupted and asked, "Are they partner of adversary?" Clinton replied, "They are partners, but they don't always see the world the way we see the world, and they don't always cooperate with us on what we think is in their interests. I mean, it's not like we are coming to Pakistan and encouraging them to do things that will be bad for Pakistan, but they often don't follow what our logic is as we make those cases to them. So it takes a lot of dialogue."

Asked if she trusts Karzai, Clinton said, "Yes," and then argued, "Look,  I deal with leaders all over the world who have their own political dynamics that they're trying to cope with, which are not always ones that we experience or that we think are necessarily the most important. But they get to call the shots. They're the ones who are coming out of their culture. They're trying to implement democracy, often in places where that's a very foreign concept. It can be a difficult and challenging partnership; there's no doubt about it. But there is certainly a commitment on the part of the Karzai government to this transition process."

"Remember," she recalled, "when we adopted this process that will go through 2014 at the NATO Lisbon Summit, it was in concert with the Karzai government making the same commitment. Now, we are also discussing what kind of ongoing partnership -- diplomatic, development, military -- that we will have with Afghanistan. President Karzai made a very important statement just this past week: He is not seeking a third term, which is a very strong signal that there has to be an active dynamic political process to choose his successor."

"So look, I have dealt with President Karzai now for nearly 10 years. I am looking at my old chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee down there, John Warner. I dealt with him as a senator and I have dealt with him as Secretary of State, and you have to listen to him because all too often we come in with our preconceptions about how things are supposed to be, and he says over and over again, you know, I don't like this or I am not sure about this. Take the private contractor issue. That went on for a long time because we didn't quite get what his concerns were."

Thus, Clinton argued, "It's not all a one-sided critique here. I think there has got to be a recognition that we have a dialogue and a partnership and that we both have to work at it."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC