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Rediff.com  » News » Terror attacks a worry but Pak N-stockpile is safe: Hillary

Terror attacks a worry but Pak N-stockpile is safe: Hillary

October 22, 2009 11:16 IST
The continuing and sustained terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including the recent attack on its army headquarters, and the past record of the nuclear black market operated by the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb A Q Khan, are certainly cause for concern and remain so, but that country's nuclear arsenal is secure, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said.

Clinton, in an interaction that followed a major foreign policy speech on nonproliferation at the US Institute of Peace, admitted that Washington has to do something soon to ramp up the propaganda war in Pakistan where the US, for all the massive economic largesse it has provided that country, remains highly unpopular among the populace, which she said had been riled up by false reports in the Pakistani media.

Asked how the Obama administration was planning to address both the issues of the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal due to the militancy and the ongoing proliferation threat compounded by those directly engaged in the country's weapons programme, Clinton said, "Those two concerns are part of each and every engagement that we have."

However, she said, "We have been reassured about the security of the nuclear stockpiles and facilities," and acknowledged, "It is obviously a matter that we are watching very closely for the very reasons that you mention."

"First, the continuing threat of proliferation, which we watch and try to monitor any signs of, and the Pakistani government and military know of our continuing questions about that. And of course, the militant attack that we saw last week and the continuing organised attacks on government targets, including the military itself and the intelligence services by Taliban, Al Qaeda and related extremists."

But Clinton reiterated that "We don't think those attacks pose a threat to the nuclear command and control or access. But we have certainly made our views known and asked a lot of questions and are supporting the Pakistani government in their courageous efforts against these extremists. This, to us, is one of the most important steps they can take to make sure that these questions that you raise are going to be answered satisfactorily."

On how the Obama administration intends to expedite the counter-propaganda in Pakistan, that the massive US presence in the region was to secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, the secretary of state admitted, "I think we have, as a government, not done a very good job in responding to what you rightly call propaganda, misinformation, even in some instances disinformation, about our motivations and our actions in Pakistan."

"This became clear to me as we were doing our review," Clinton said, "And I saw how often there were stories in the Pakistani media that were totally untrue, but we were not responding as effectively as we need to."

Consequently, she said under the supervision of Judith McHale, under secretary of state for public diplomacy, "We have undertaken a very thorough analysis of what better we could do, and we are moving very rapidly to try to fill that void."

Clinton disclosed that "We have a new team going to Pakistan. A public affairs officer may be already there. We have adopted a news approach, which is we do not leave any misstatement or inaccuracy unanswered."

She acknowledged that "it may be that people won't believe it at first, but we intend to counter a lot of this propaganda with the best weapon we have, namely, the truth. And, we are going to be much more aggressive in interacting with the Pakistani media."

Clinton said, "It is unfortunate that there is a lot of mistrust that has built up with respect to the United States. And, I think we saw that in some of the reactions on the Kerry-Lugar legislation, which we'd been working on and consulting with the Government of Pakistan for many, many months."

"And, the ultimate passage of it we saw as a great milestone in our relationship, and we were very concerned when the reaction was so volatile and negative," she added.

Clinton said, "We have gone a long way in answering and putting to rest a lot of those misperceptions." On his recent trip to the region Senator John F Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-author of the legislation, "in between helping us very significantly answer concerns raised in Afghanistan, made a trip to Islamabad where he reiterated our approach," she explained.

However, she said, "This is going to take time. This is not something you can fix in a news cycle or by just snapping your fingers and asking people to believe you. You have to go at it day in and day out. And I was, frankly, quite surprised that we had not done much of this in an effective manner."

But, Clinton reiterated that "We're gong to remedy that," even while continuing to acknowledge that "There's no guarantee that people will pay more attention to what we say."

"At least we're going to be in the mix and we're going to be in the mix every day in getting out information that can be used by those who understand that the United States is hoping to be a good partner for not just the Government of Pakistan, but more importantly, the people of Pakistan," she added.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC