Bombing Overshadows Clinton's Visit To Pakistan

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A car bomb tore through a busy market place Wednesday in northwestern Pakistan. Nearly 100 people were killed. The bombing in Peshawar occurred as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was visiting Islamabad. She is pledging U.S. support for Pakistan's campaign against Islamist militants.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

We're getting some responses now to a major car bombing in Pakistan. This bombing took place in Peshawar, a city near the Afghan border. The target was a market catering to women. Scores of people are dead. More than 200 are wounded. And it happened just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Pakistan for a visit. She's in the capital city, Islamabad.

We're going to talk about all this with NPR's Jackie Northam, who is traveling with the secretary. Hi, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is Secretary Clinton, and her Pakistani counterpart, saying about the bombing?

NORTHAM: Well, they held a press conference, and they - obviously, the subject of this bombing came up, and both of them gave very emotional, very strong statements about this. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said it would not shake Pakistan's resolve, you know, in its fight against extremism, and that, he said, we're going to keep carrying on. And he also told Secretary Clinton, we face this every single day.

Mrs. Clinton, for her part, turned around and said, look, this is a cowardly, cowardly act. And she says, but this is a fight that cannot be avoided. It's going to have to go on. And she also sent a message out to the Taliban, and said, you know, if you've got a case to make, make it in the political arena. Don't carry out these acts of terrorism. But again, they were just both very emotional about this attack that has killed scores of people.

INSKEEP: And I suppose we should remember, Jackie Northam, you're in a country where there are two offensives going on, in effect. The Pakistani military is on the offensive against the Taliban up near the Afghan border; and at the same time, extremists are waging a sort of offensive across Pakistan. There's been bombing after bombing after bombing.

NORTHAM: There has, indeed, particularly in this past month. The Pakistani military launched its latest offensive into south Waziristan. And the Taliban warned that it would retaliate if the military did this. And this is why you're seeing these bombings across Pakistan right now. Just in the past two weeks, even before the Peshawar bombing, about 200 people were killed. And so, you know, you do have these two - as you say, two separate offensives going on right now. But as Foreign Minister Qureshi said, you know, the Pakistanis have made up their minds and they are going to try to root out the extremists along the border area in particular.

INSKEEP: And given all that, I would imagine that Secretary of State Clinton's visit there has to be more than a formality. What does she want to accomplish?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, when she came in, she was telling reporters that flew on the plane with her from Washington, that what it really was, was just to come in and build up relations with Pakistan. Again, they had been - become very strained over the years. The Pakistanis, for the most part, don't trust that the Americans are in it for the long haul. So it was really sort of a public relations campaign that she came in on. And, of course, she arrived here, the bombing - this has overshadowed what she really wanted to accomplish here at this point.

But this is her first day. She's got a few more days here. She might be able to get on track. But it was really important to her, she said, that she comes in and just tries to, you know, regain the trust of the Pakistanis. And to that end, she's meeting with many, many Pakistani journalists. She's going out, holding a town hall meeting tomorrow in Lahore. She's meeting with elders, Pashtun elders, from along the border region.

So again, the bombing doesn't help at all. She might be able to regain that footing that she hoped to come in and accomplish here.

INSKEEP: And you talk about regaining trust. What effects are you seeing of the U.S. plan to spend billions of dollars in civilian aid in Pakistan, which was intended to be a gesture of building trust?

NORTHAM: Right. Well, that was the Kerry-Lugar Bill, and that 7.5 billion in total was to, you know, to help build up things like civil society here, promote democracy, that type of thing. Before, much of the aid was focused on the military side of it. However, unfortunately again, we're talking about a lack of trust between the two countries. The bill was seen, you know, rather suspiciously by many Pakistanis. They thought it had way too many conditions put on it.

And frankly, it was felt that the U.S. was trying to micromanage how the Pakistanis do business. So that is definitely something that Secretary Clinton is going to have to address here, as well, and just try to smooth, you know, the ruffled feathers for that as well, and just help to get the aid to the people.

INSKEEP: Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jackie Northam, traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Islamabad.

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