Omar Waraich: Helping America is a tough sell in this part of the world

Hillary Clinton reached into her wardrobe for the colours of Pakistan's flag for her first visit as Secretary of State. On top of a green pantsuit, her neck was wreathed in alternating white and green stones. But Mrs Clinton will encounter many Pakistanis who are unmoved by her sartorial taste, or her just as carefully chosen words. So deep is the trust deficit between the two allies that 80 per cent of Pakistanis oppose their country's co-operation with the US, according to a recent poll.

Washington wants Pakistan to do more against militants. Rankled Pakistanis point to the heavy price they are paying already. Just hours after Mrs Clinton arrived, the biggest bomb in two years killed nearly 100 people at a crowded women's marketplace in Peshawar.

Pakistan's military, opposition politicians, and commentators have been thundering at what they termed "humiliating" conditions attached to an aid Bill recently passed by Congress. They bristle at suggestions Pakistan may still be involved in exporting violence, and don't seem to trust pro-American President Asif Ali Zardari to oversee the military.

Completing the backdrop are objections to US airstrikes targeting militants in the tribal areas, nervousness at Washington's build-up in Afghanistan on one border and its closer relationship with rival India on the other, while potent conspiracy theories even claim the US wants to seize Pakistan's nukes.

Mrs Clinton will find it hard to shift those attitudes. The current ground offensive in South Waziristan signals a hardening of Pakistani resolve against the militants based there who pose a direct threat to Pakistan. But there are few signs that Pakistan is prepared to take on those militants who use its territory as a staging ground for cross-border attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan. Most notably, Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, whom Western officials suspect are based around Quetta city.

Breaking with Washington's tradition of boosting Pakistan's dictators in return for security gains, the Obama administration is now pursuing a broader approach: supporting its fledgling democracy and ailing energy sector.

And yet, Mr Zardari's government has grown so unpopular that it is widely accused of fecklessness and corruption. Just as with Pervez Musharraf before him, the White House finds itself backing a leader who is seen as too weak to deliver, for either country.