Clinton Discusses Security On Pakistan Visit
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
And I'm Mary Louise Kelly, in for Steve Inskeep.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is spending the day in two countries that are central to U.S. national security interests: Pakistan and Afghanistan. They're also places where relations with the U.S. have been strained at times. First, Clinton was in Pakistan, her second visit to that country in nine months - part of an effort to build better relations between the two countries. Before the secretary took off for Afghanistan, her next stop, we spoke with NPR's Jackie Northam, who's traveling with Secretary Clinton. I asked Jackie about what the secretary is trying to accomplish on the trip.
NORTHAM: Well, there are several tracks to her visit here to Pakistan, and one is to continue what's called a strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the U.S. And in essence, it's designed to build better relations between the two countries. And as you mentioned, they have been strained over the years. As part of that strategic dialogue, Clinton unveiled a series of U.S.-funded projects this morning, and this includes everything from building hydroelectric damns to building or expanding medical centers, even introducing drip irrigation in the farming regions of the country.
These projects will be spread out all over the country, and virtually through every sector, as well. And certainly, it's the U.S. who's providing the funding, about $500 million for this series of projects and much of the expertise that'll go into it, as well.
KELLY: And what is the U.S. trying to get out of this strategic dialogue? The U.S. is pouring all this money in, and this is in order to secure greater efforts on the counterterrorism front, I assume.
NORTHAM: Well, indeed. The idea is if the U.S. can build some trust with the Pakistanis - and believe me, trust is in real short supply around here - then perhaps the U.S. can get more cooperation, more help from the Pakistani government and military in fighting terrorism.
Clinton is meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani, and he's the Army chief of staff here, as well as the main political leaders here. And she's discussing what more can be done to go after militants on Pakistani soil, especially those that cross over into Afghanistan to target U.S. and NATO troops.
She's also going to look for where Pakistan is as far as peace negotiations are going in neighboring Afghanistan. You know, there have been high-level talks between Pakistan and Afghan leaders recently, and both sides are trying to encourage some elements of the Taliban to reconcile with the Afghan government.
KELLY: You know, I know Jackie from when I've been there reporting that when these senior U.S. officials are in town, they often hear one message from top Pakistani officials, and then they hear something a little different when they speak to ordinary Pakistanis and journalists. I gather Secretary Clinton is going to be holding a couple of town hall meetings while she's there. What are you expecting from those?
NORTHAM: Well, this all goes towards, you know, winning hearts and minds here in Pakistan. And if you remember, when Clinton was here last October, she held a couple of town hall meetings where she was hit with a lot of criticism about America's intentions and interests in Pakistan. And Clinton did push back a lot, but it was pretty clear the dearth of trust and goodwill towards the U.S.
So the town halls today will be, in part, a way to gauge whether there has been any progress on building this relationship. And again, that's with the Pakistani people. And one of the town halls will be with newspaper and television reporters and editorial writers here, because you see a clear bias against the U.S. in their coverage and really a lot of suspicion as to what the U.S. is doing.
KELLY: And Jackie, Secretary Clinton is leaving Pakistan. She'll head on to Kabul. There's a big international donor conference happening there. What can you tell us about that?
NORTHAM: Well, this would be the largest international conference in Kabul in decades. And representatives from 60 nations will descend on the city, and you can only imagine the security operation underway there right now.
The conference is really a collective stamp of commitment, if you like, amongst the international community for Afghanistan and for the Afghan government. The peace talks will certainly be a focus of the conference, and everyone is keen to hear what Afghan President Hamid Karzai has to say about that. And this will also be an opportunity for Secretary Clinton to hold a lot of bilateral meetings on the sidelines. It's a very quick conference, but it's an important one to, again, show support for the Afghan government.
And what will be interesting is to see the response to President Karzai's request that 80 percent of the national funding coming into Afghanistan goes through his government. There have been a lot of allegations, really, of corruption within his government. So we'll see what he has to say about that as well.
KELLY: That's NPR's Jackie Northam.
Jackie, we'll be checking back in with you on that soon. Thanks very much.
NORTHAM: Thank you very much.
KELLY: And that's Jackie Northam, traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in South Asia.
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