ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton started a South Asia tour on Sunday aimed at refining the goals of the nearly 9-year-old war in Afghanistan and pushing neighbouring nations to work together in the fight against al-Qaida and Taliban extremists.
Clinton landed in Islamabad where she will underscore the need for Afghan-Pakistani co-operation in winning the war but also announce plans to beef up U.S. development assistance to Pakistan, which is rife with anti-American sentiment. After a day of talks in Pakistan, she will attend an international conference on Afghanistan in Kabul.
Her visit to the region comes as American lawmakers and voters are increasingly questioning the course of the drawn-out war with rising death tolls among U.S. and international troops and growing questions about corruption.
Last month was the deadliest of the war for international forces: 103 coalition troops were killed, despite the infusion of tens of thousands of new U.S. troops. So far in July, 54 international troops have died, 39 of them American. An American service member was killed by a blast in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, and an American died in a blast in the south on Friday.
On the first leg of her trip, Clinton is seeking to convince the Pakistanis and their leaders that the U.S. is committed to the country’s long-term development needs and not just short-term security gains. This, officials say, will lead to greater Pakistani co-operation on key U.S. policy goals.
Still, they concede mistrust of the U.S. runs deep, particularly over unmanned drone strikes which are aimed at militants but have also killed or maimed many civilians, including women and children.
Vali Nasr, a deputy to U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, told reporters travelling with Clinton that overcoming the suspicion remains a work in progress.
“We’re beginning to see movement but this is not going to happen overnight,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to get them aligned over a one-year time period on every single issue and change 30 years of foreign policy of Pakistan on a dime.”
Later in the week, Clinton will meet up with Defence Secretary Robert Gates in South Korea, where tensions with the communist North have risen after the sinking of a South Korean warship that was blamed on the North.
She will finish her trip in Vietnam for discussions with regional leaders. Among the topics will be the upcoming elections in Myanmar.