NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Standing next to India’s foreign minister, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed neighbouring Pakistan on Tuesday to do more to stamp out homegrown terrorism, in comments likely to please the Indian government but annoy Pakistani leaders.
Clinton was speaking a day after accusing Islamabad of foot-dragging in the case of Hafiz Saeed, the Pakistan-based Islamist blamed for masterminding the attack by gunmen on Mumbai, India’s financial capital, in 2008. Clinton has authorised a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.
“We look to the government of Pakistan to do more,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna on Tuesday as she wrapped up an eight-day Asian trip that also took her to China and Bangladesh.
“It needs to make sure that its territory is not used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks anywhere, including inside of Pakistan, because the great unfortunate fact is that terrorists in Pakistan have killed more than 30,000 Pakistanis,” she said.
Clinton said there was a need for wider vigilance against militant attacks, pointing to the discovery of a new plot linked to the Yemen-based group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to attack an airliner with an improved “underwear bomb”.
“The device did not appear to pose a threat to the public air service, but the plot itself indicates that these terrorists keep trying, they keep trying to devise more and more perverse and terrible ways to kill innocent people,” she said.
Relations between the United States and Pakistan sharply deteriorated after a series of incidents fuelled mistrust between the uneasy allies in the war on Islamist militancy.
The incidents included Pakistan’s arrest of a CIA contractor in early 2011, the top-secret U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden just 50 km (30 miles) from Islamabad a few months later, Pakistan’s fury over U.S. drone strikes and a U.S. air assault in November 2011 that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan disputes the charges of inaction, saying it has suffered more casualties than any other country in fighting the Pakistani Taliban, other militant groups along the Afghan border and Islamist groups inside the country.
Responding to Clinton’s comments, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Islamabad said Pakistan’s determination to fight militancy “cannot be doubted”.
“We have made numerous sacrifices that are unparalleled,” spokesman Moazzam Ali Khan said.
Both Washington and New Delhi have criticised Pakistan for not detaining Saeed, who founded the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the 1990s. He denies any wrongdoing and links to militants.
India blames the LeT for the Mumbai attacks in which Pakistani gunmen killed 166 people over three days and says Pakistan is also a haven for militants operating in Afghanistan.
India has said that Pakistani action on the Mumbai attackers is central to tentative peace moves between the nuclear-armed rivals, which have fought three wars since 1947.
The Indian foreign minister joined Clinton in calling for Pakistan to get tougher on militants within its borders.
“Recent attacks in Kabul highlight once again the need for elimination of terrorist sanctuaries in the neighbourhood and the need for stronger action from Pakistan on terrorism, including on bringing to justice the perpetrators of (the) Mumbai terrorist attack,” Krishna said.
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan last month blamed an assault on embassies and parliament in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, whose fighters move freely across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and again demanded that Islamabad go after the group.
After a similar attack last year, the outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, called the Haqqani group a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence service.
Pakistan denies claims that it sees the Haqqanis as a strategic asset to counter the influence of India in Afghanistan.
Writing by Matthias Williams and Ross Colvin, additional reporting by Qasim Nauman in Islamabad; Editing by John Chalmers and Robert Birsel