CIA chief Leon Panetta said on Thursday that terrorists posed the biggest threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty and it is in the country’s interest to fight them because a terrorist attack happens in Pakistan almost daily.
He was answering questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in the open session of his nomination hearing as the new Secretary of Defence here on Thursday.
Panetta said the war in Afghanistan could not be won unless America is successful in resolving the problem of safe havens in Pakistan.
Despite questions from various senators, Panetta refused to commit on a specific or even average number of troops that will begin leaving Afghanistan in July this year as part of the withdrawal process. Panetta said while there had been military gains in Afghanistan, they were “fragile and reversible,” adding that Afghanistan needed better governance.
In his submitted responses to the committee prior to the hearing, Panetta said “our military to military relationship with Pakistan, like our overall relationship, has featured ups and downs and is challenged by a long-term lack of trust within Pakistan about our intentions.” In the hearing, Panetta said that while there were fruitful discussions in some areas in Pakistan, there was a lack of trust and co-operation in others.
He added that while there was no intelligence about complicity of Pakistan in sheltering Osama bin Laden, they were awaiting the results of the investigations.
In response to a question, Panetta listed the Haqqani network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hezbollah, Hamas, Alkwai and al Shabab as some of the major terrorist organisations linked to al Qaeda.While the first session was open to media, the post-lunch session of the hearing was classified and held behind closed doors.
If confirmed, Panetta will replace Robert Gates as Secretary of Defence.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2011.