U.S. officials are trying to patch up relations with Pakistan amid rising congressional anger over sending annual aid to Pakistan, where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was found and killed earlier this month.
The Navy SEAL operation to kill Bin Laden in Abbottabad, just two hours’ drive from Islamabad, left the Pakistani government and military establishments embarrassed and angry over what they called an “unauthorized unilateral action” by the U.S.
On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen acknowledged that embarrassment.
“I don’t think we should underestimate the humbling experience that this (has been) and in fact the internal soul searching that’s going on” inside Pakistan’s military, Mullen said, reported The Associated Press.
Gates said he saw no evidence that senior-level Pakistani officials knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts, nor anyone else. Though he did go on to say, “My supposition is, somebody knew.”
After the May 1 incident, Pakistan’s Parliament demanded in a resolution no repeat of such a raid, while the military threatened to review intelligence cooperation with the U.S. on counterterrorism efforts.
The first high-profile U.S. visit to Pakistan after the raid was by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He met with Pakistan’s president, prime minister and army chief in an effort to smooth relations between the two countries.
“It’s important to try also to not allow the passions of a moment to cloud over the larger goal that is in both of our interests” – fighting terrorism, Kerry said, reported news agencies.
A joint statement issued by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Kerry said it was important to press the “reset button” in U.S.-Pakistani relations and to use the opportunity to put the relations back on track. “It was agreed that both U.S. and Pakistan must recognize and respect each other’s national interests, particularly in countering terrorism and in working together for promoting reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan,” the statement read.
The two countries also agreed to more intelligence-sharing and to conduct joint operations against future “high-value” targets.
Many of Pakistan’s media outlets picked up on Kerry’s assertion that the U.S. wasn’t seeking to restrict Pakistan’s nuclear programs. According to the joint statement, “Pakistan’s leadership welcomed the clear affirmation by Senator Kerry that U.S. policy has no designs against Pakistan’s nuclear and strategic assets.”
Kerry also reportedly voiced Congress’ concerns over the presence of bin Laden in Pakistan and the questions it prompted about U.S. aid to Pakistan.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike are questioning whether the U.S. should continue sending billions of dollars in annual aid to Pakistan. This week, five senior Democrats sent a letter to the State and Defense departments asking for a review of Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror.
“It is incongruous to be providing enormous sums to the Pakistani military unless we are certain that it is meeting its commitment to locate, disrupt and dismantle terrorist threats inside its borders,” wrote Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Max Baucus of Montana and Jon Tester of Montana.
Senior anchor and analyst at Pakistan’s AJJ TV, Shoukat Pracha, told the NewsHour that Kerry’s visit to Pakistan seemed to bridge the trust deficit to some extent and further repairs would come through visits by U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and the CIA’s deputy chief Mark Morrell. Grossman told journalists that the two countries will move forward on a path of mutual respect and mutual interests.
Those meetings, in turn, would help lay the groundwork for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming visit, Pracha said.