Lahore: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has questioned Pakistan's seriousness in taking on the al-Qaeda terror group, saying she found it "hard to believe" Islamabad didn't know where its leaders were.
"Al-Qaeda has had a safe haven in Pakistan since 2002," Clinton told newspaper editors here Thursday. "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."
"Maybe that's the case; maybe they're not gettable. I don't know...As far as we know, they are in Pakistan," Clinton, the senior most official of the Obama administration to visit Pakistan maintained, questioning the country's leadership on its repeated assertions that al-Qaeda leaders are not in Pakistan.
Clinton's remarks upset her hosts, said a report in The New York Times.
"If we knew where al-Qaeda's leaders were, or if we had meaningful intelligence on their whereabouts shared with us, we would act against them," said a senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Times also noted that it was "extremely rare" for an official of Clinton's rank "to say publicly what American politicians and intelligence officials have said in more guarded ways for years".
"Her comments also gave voice to the longtime frustration of American officials with what they see as the Pakistani government's lack of resolve in rooting out not only al-Qaeda, but also the Taliban leadership based in Quetta, and a host of militant groups that use the border region to stage attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan," the newspaper added.
A day before Clinton spoke, a deadly car bomb exploded in a crowded market in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 110 people, most of them women and children, hours after she arrived in Islamabad Wednesday.
On Friday, security was beefed up in the southern port city of Karachi ahead of Friday prayers with additional contingents of police and paramilitary Pakistan Rangers being deployed at different roads to avert any terrorist incident.
Pakistan has been rocked by a series of suicide bombings this year that have claimed over 400 lives.
The attacks have increased ever since the Pakistani security forces launched a major offensive against the Taliban in the South Waziristan region of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan.
Speaking at a meeting with university students in Lahore later Thursday, Clinton said: "We have to decide if we want to move beyond the past in your country and in our country."
"We are now at a point where we can chart a different course," she said.