Democracy needs to be institutionalized in N Africa: Hillary Clinton

US Secretary of State warned of a spreading "jihadist threat" in the wake of the upheaval in the Arab world and North Africa.

Updated: Jan 24, 2013, 00:49 AM IST

Washington: US Secretary of State warned of a spreading "jihadist threat" in the wake of the upheaval in the Arab world and North Africa, and long term peace and stability can only be achieved if democracy gets rooted in the region.

Clinton told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing that while killing top militant leaders like Osama bin Laden could be a good way of getting rid of terrorism in the short term, long term solutions have to be based on institutional reform.

"We have driven a lot of the AQ operatives out of the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan), out of Afghanistan, Pakistan. Killed a lot of them, including of course, bin Laden. But we have to recognise this is a global movement," Clinton said.

"We can kill leaders, but until we help establish strong democratic institutions, until we do a better job communicating our values and building relationships, we`re going to be faced with this level of instability," Clinton told lawmakers at a hearing on last year`s Benghazi attack.

The Secretary of State was responding to a question from Senator Bob Croker, Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who observed that the US was "woefully unprepared" for what happened in Northern Africa during the last couple of years.

Clinton said till four years back it was difficult to foresee that the North African region will be swept by such massive changes in a short span of time.

"When I was here four years ago testifying for my confirmation, I don`t think anybody thought that Mubarak (of Egypt) would be gone, Gaddafi (of Libya) would be gone, that Ben Ali (of Tunisia) would be gone, that we would have such revolutionary change in this region. There were hints of it," she said.

"Several of us, you know said the institutions were sinking in the sand, as I said in Doha shortly before Tahrir Square. So there was some healing out there, but I don`t think any of us predicted this," she said.

"Least of all the people in these countries who then were given a chance to chart their own futures. This is a great opportunity as well as a serious threat to our country. I hope we seize the opportunity. It`s not going to be easy, because these new countries have no experience with democracy," she said.

"They don`t have any real experience among the leaders in running countries, in doing security. So, yes we now face a spreading jihadist threat," Clinton said in response to the question.

Responding to a question on Mali from Senator Barbara
Boxer, Clinton said the country had been making progress on its democracy.
"Unfortunately, it suffered a military coup by low-ranking military officers which threw it into a state of instability," she said.

"We have been working to try to upgrade security around northern Mali among a number of the countries. Algeria is the only one with any real ability to do that. Most of these countries don`t have the capacity to do that.

"We are now trying to help put together an African force from ECOWAS so that African soldiers will be in the front of this fight. The Malians asked the French to come in. Obviously, France is one of our oldest allies. We are trying to provide support to them," she said.

"But this is going to be a very serious, on-going threat. Because if you look at the size of northern Mali, if you look at the topography, it`s not only desert, it`s sounds reminiscent. We are in for a struggle.

"But it is a necessary struggle. We cannot permit northern Mali to become a safe haven. People say to me all the time, well, AQIM hasn`t attacked the United States," she argued.