United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday virtually accused the Asif Ali Zardari-led Pakistan government of surrendering to terrorists.
Mincing no words over the Barack Obama administration's anger over the Zardari government's striking a deal with the Taliban in Swat Valley, Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that "I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists."
Washington believes that the deal has emboldened the Taliban to not just impose its own brand of Islamic Shariah law but also advance militarily within 60 miles of Islamabad.
The Secretary, who was appearing before the lawmakers at a hearing titled 'New Beginnings: Foreign Policy Priorities in the Obama administration,' was responding to questions about the unraveling situation in Pakistan, saying the prospect of a Taliban takeover in Pakistan "poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world."
"I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances now within hours of Islamabad that being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, which as we all know is a nuclear-armed state," she warned.
Clinton not only called on the Pakistani people to speak out forcefully against the Zardari government ceding territory to the Taliban, but also assailed the Pakistani Diaspora and the influential Pakistani American community for not expressing its outrage against Islamabad striking deals with the Taliban.
"I want to take this occasion to state unequivocally that not only do the Pakistani officials, but the Pakistani people and the Pakistani Diaspora need to speak out forcefully against a policy that is ceding more and more territory to the insurgents," she said.
Clinton asserted that "I don't hear that kind of outrage or concern coming from enough people that would reverberate back within the high echelons of the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan."
Earlier, Committee chairman and California Democrat Congressman Howard Berman, who along with several of his colleagues had returned from a trip to India and Pakistan on Tuesday, said, "I think I can speak for all of them in saying that we were encouraged by the dramatically improved US ties with India, but deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Pakistan."
He said, "The United States has an enormous stake in the stability and security of Pakistan," and argued that "we cannot allow al Qaeda or any other terror group that threatens our national security to operate with impunity in the tribal regions. Nor can we permit the Pakistani state -- and its nuclear arsenal -- to be taken over by the Taliban or any other radical groups, or otherwise be destabilised in a manner that could lead to renewed conflict with India."
"So, it is very alarming that we are now hearing predictions from a number of leading experts that Pakistan could collapse in as little as six months," Berman said.
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's feisty ambassador to the US, lost no time in refuting Clinton's concerns and disputing what he called the Secretary's 'fudging of facts'.
When CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer said he couldn't remember a time when a US Secretary of State has offered such a dire assessment of Pakistani, Haqqani shot back, "I don't think that the dire assessment should be seen as an assessment. I think it is a sentiment more than an assessment."
Arguing that there were 'factual errors', in this so-called dire assessment, the envoy said, "For example, yes, Swat is 60 miles from the capital, but it is not 60 miles on the highway -- it's 60 miles as the crow flies."
"So there are mountains that have to taken over -- it's not like Islamabad is falling apart. The fact of the matter is that Swat is an isolated valley surrounded by mountains," he said.
Haqqani acknowledged that "the Taliban has made an advance there in the sense that the Pakistan government cut a deal with a movement that supports the Taliban, but it's not the Taliban itself. The idea was that the Taliban will lay down their arms as a result."
The Ambassador spoke of the prowess of the Pakistani army, saying it's one of the largest in the world and could crush the Taliban anytime it wanted to. "The army can and will move, as it has done in many other parts of the country," he said.
But he added, "The important thing is what would be the collateral damage. After all, it's much easier talking about what's happening in the Swat Valley sitting in Washington,DC than it is sitting in Pakistan. These are Pakistani citizens we are talking about. In all insurgencies, you have to move very methodically."
Haqqani compared the Pakistani government's deal with the Taliban in the Swat Valley with the US army's deals with Sunni factions in Iraq that were supporting the al Qaeda. "If you go back for example to Iraq, how was peace restored to Faluja? There were arrangements -- local arrangements -- with various tribes, with various groups that were loosely affiliated with the al Qaeda," he claimed.
He said that the Pakistani government "is pursuing a strategy," and while declaring that "we are open to criticism of that strategy," he pointed out that Clinton was 'incorrect' for stating that the strategy was somwhoe "an abdication of our responsibility towards our people and toward the security of our country and the region."
Haqqani asserted, "We are not going to do anything on demand -- this is not something that is going to be done by the pressing of a button anywhere in the world. Pakistan will fight terrorism, we intend to fight terrorism, we will fight the al Qaeda and the Taliban."