Experts on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan have long lamented the connections
between the Pakistani government and Al Qaeda. That Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence tolerates or even funds Taliban extremists
in the western border regions, where Al Qaeda makes its home, is hardly
a controversial statement. It is considered one of the greatest
stumbling blocks as America attempts to exterminate the terrorist group
while simultaneously stemming the tide of anti-Americanism in
U.S. officials, cautious of upsetting the delicate relationship with Pakistan, have long refused to acknowledge the problem. Calls for America and Pakistan to address Pakistan's behavior have been frequent and loud. But now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a moment of frankness while answering questions at a press conference in Lahore, Pakistan, has brought the issue to the forefront:
Al-Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002. [...] I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to. [...] I am more than willing to hear every complaint about the United States, but this is a two-way street. If we are going to have a mature partnership where we work together [then] there are issues that not just the United States but others have with your government and with your military security establishment. [...] I don't believe in dancing around difficult issues because I don't think that benefits anybody. I ask in the pursuit of mutual respect that you take seriously our concerns.
Clinton's statement puts Pakistan's toleration of Al Qaeda, the elephant in the room of American-Pakistani relations, at the forefront. As the two states move forward in fighting the extremist violence that threatens them, this may mark a step toward addressing and perhaps resolving Pakistan's tolerance of Al Qaeda.