WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans and Democrats warned Pakistan on Tuesday that billions of dollars in American aid are at stake if Islamabad doesn't step up its efforts against terrorists, a clear sign of the growing exasperation after the U.S. takedown of Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan.
The frustration evident at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing exposed the dilemma for the United States, which needs Pakistan for its supply routes into Afghanistan in the 10th year of the war there and its help in any talks with the Taliban. Still, questions loom about the uneven ally in the aftermath of the May 2 raid in which U.S. SEALs killed bin Laden on an estate near a Pakistani military training academy.
Just back from a weekend trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the committee chairman, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he told Pakistani leaders about the deep concerns in Congress and the nation about the country's eagerness in the terror fight. The White House signed off on Kerry's trip, which sought to ease tensions with Pakistan.
"I underscored the importance of seizing this moment to firmly reject an anti-American narrative that exploits our differences instead of finding common ground and advancing mutual goals," Kerry said, three hours after landing on U.S. soil.
At the hearing, the sourness toward Pakistan came from all political quarters.
"After the bin Laden mission, I think all of us, our initial response in regards to Pakistan is: How could Pakistan either be so inept or so complicitous?" said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. "So I think we're now going through an evaluation, whether Pakistan's our ally and friend."
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said many in Congress "are wanting to call 'time out' on aid until we can ascertain what is in our best interest and what I would consider to be more of a transactional relationship."
The United States has provided some $20 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001, and there have been efforts in Congress to cut some of the $1.1 billion for Pakistan in the defense bill in the House.
"Going forward, Pakistan must do much more than it has to root out terrorists in Pakistan," said Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, the committee's top Republican.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Pakistan is a country that "plays a double game," and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said "selective engagement makes us think of selective assistance."
Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, said his constituents have asked, "Why are we spending our kids' and our grandkids' money to do this in a country that really doesn't like us? ... It's a hard sell to the American people."
Adding to the dissatisfaction among lawmakers was the arrival of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in China on Tuesday and his recent pronouncement that the Asian nation is Islamabad's "all-weather friend."
Retired Gen. James Jones, President Barack Obama's former national security adviser, suggested the United States imposes conditions on American aid, linking it to whether Pakistan rejects terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy and takes definitive steps to go after terrorists.
"Unless and until they commit to doing those things, it's going to be difficult, I think, to get a significant — get our taxpayers to understand the logic of continuing to support a country that doesn't seem to be able to get its act together on that particular — those particular very logical points," Jones told the committee.
In his trip, Kerry delivered a fresh message to Pakistan — it's losing U.S. friends quickly. If they had any doubts, he said he would make sure the leadership saw a transcript of the hearing.
But he insisted the complicated relationship between the United States and the nuclear power of some 180 million people is critical to American national security and resolving the conflict in Afghanistan.
"Right now we have about 100,000 reasons for worrying about our relationship with Pakistan, and they're called our young men and women, and they're in uniform in Afghanistan," Kerry said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Obama administration have said they will negotiate with any Taliban member who embraces the Afghan constitution, renounces violence and severs ties with al-Qaida. Informal contacts have been made in recent months with high-ranking Taliban figures, but no formal peace talks are under way.
At the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. backs "an Afghan-led process of reconciliation and currently we have a broad range of contacts that are ongoing across Afghanistan and the region at many different levels in order to support the Afghan initiative."
She said it would be easier for the Taliban to abandon its alliance with al-Qaida after the death of bin Laden.
Kerry said he discussed talks with the Taliban during his trip to Pakistan, telling reporters after the hearing that Islamabad "obviously could play a critical role in helping to make it happen."
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