U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has harshly criticized Pakistan's government saying it has abdicated to the Taliban, adding the potential collapse of the Pakistani state would pose a mortal threat to global security.
The remarks, coming in response to questions from lawmakers on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, are some of the sharpest words any U.S. official has had for Pakistan.
In response to a question from one lawmaker, Clinton said the government of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has pursued a policy of ceding more and more territory to the Taliban, al-Qaida and others in what she called a terrorist syndicate:
"We cannot underscore [enough] the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely-confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, which as we all know is a nuclear-armed state," she said.
Republican Congressman Ed Royce, who visited Pakistan recently with House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman, said Pakistani officials expressed to them directly their concern about the threat posed by extremists.
"In the meetings that we held, some top Pakistani officials told chairman Berman and myself, and this was over this [past] weekend, basically to express their concerns, let's just say they painted a very dire situation," he said. "We had better be prepared on that front."
Later, Republican Representative Michael McCaul asked Clinton about the administration's view of efforts by the U.S. Congress to set conditions for future aid to Pakistan, something both the House and Senate will be considering.
Secretary Clinton said the Obama administration believes assistance must come with conditions, but said the process of formulating these conditions is not simple.
"If they [conditions] are too weak we don't get changes, if they're too strong we get a backlash, so we're trying to figure out sort of, what is the area that will influence behavior [by Pakistan] and produce results," she said. "We are creating measures of performance that we will share with the Congress so that you and we can follow whether or not we are getting the kind of positive outcomes that we are attempting to achieve."
As the Obama administration works to develop conditions for aid to Pakistan, Secretary Clinton added, care must taken that legislation does not stop cooperation with the government in Islamabad which she said shares U.S. goals regarding the terrorist threat.
Earlier, in her prepared testimony to the committee, Secretary Clinton said Pakistan "poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world." If Pakistan is unable to deliver basic services to its people, Clinton said, the government could find itself losing out to those who show up and claim that they can solve people's problems and then they will impose this harsh form of oppression on women and others.
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman said lawmakers are deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Pakistan.
"We cannot allow al-Qaida or any other terrorist group that threatens our national security to operate with impunity in the tribal regions," he said. "Nor can we permit the Pakistani state - and its nuclear arsenal - to be taken over by the Taliban or any other radical groups, or otherwise be destabilized in a manner that could lead to renewed conflict with India. So it is very alarming that we are now hearing predictions from a number of leading experts that Pakistan could collapse in as little as six months."
Berman said President Obama's Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, will testify next week to provide the administration's views on legislation that would massively expand aid to Pakistan, while trying to ensure that military aid is used to support Pakistani and U.S. security interests.