WASHINGTON: The United States must “fully review” its ties with Pakistan and consider cuts or new restrictions to military and economic aid, Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham urged Monday.
A joint statement from the veteran American politicians conveyed the depth of feeling felt by many of their contemporaries in Washington about the need to re-evaluate a decade-long strategic relationship that has foundered this year.
“The United States has been incredibly patient with Pakistan. And we have been so despite certain undeniable and deeply disturbing facts,” they said.
“The time has come for the United States to fully review its relations with Pakistan. We must assess the nature and levels of our support.”
McCain serves as the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, while Graham is a member of that panel and is the top Republican on the committee that allocates US foreign aid.
“All options regarding US security and economic assistance to Pakistan must be on the table, including substantial reductions and stricter standards for performance,” they said.
The senators then cited alleged support from Pakistani army and intelligence officials for the Haqqani network “and other terrorist groups” blamed for attacks on US targets in Afghanistan “that are killing US troops.”
Such actions require that “US policy toward Pakistan must proceed from the realistic understanding that certain actions of Pakistan’s military are contributing to the death and injury of our men and women in the military and jeopardizing our national security interests,” said the senators.
Ties between Washington and Islamabad plummeted after a US commando raid killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, just two hours drive north of the capital Islamabad, in May.
Relations slid to a new low last month when Nato air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border, prompting Pakistan to boycott the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan’s future.
Islamabad officials have also refused to cooperate in a US investigation into the November 26 incident. President Barack Obama offered condolences and assured the Pakistanis that their troops were not deliberately attacked.
McCain and Graham also offered their “deep condolences” over those killed in what they called an “unfortunate and unintentional” strike and predicted the investigation would “clarify the circumstances of this terrible tragedy.”
“The Pakistani government’s response to these events, however, has been deeply troubling and has added to the continued deterioration of our relationship,” they added.
They were referring to Pakistan’s decision to prevent Nato supplies from reaching Afghanistan, ordering US intelligence officers to leave the country, and boycotting the Bonn conference, and reports that Islamabad may have decided to suspend all bilateral counter-terrorism agreements.
“Such steps by the Pakistani government would mark a new low for our relationship,” they warned.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led an interagency review of US policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan in early 2009, on Monday said the United States should give greater weight to containing the Pakistani army.
Speaking at a panel discussion in the US capital, he said that for now, Washington was “not doing enough on the containment part. We’re slipping and sliding into it, but I think without a coherent framework.”
According to Riedel, the Pakistani army is gradually installing a new military dictatorship, without even needing to resort to a coup.
“The new military dictatorship that is emerging in Pakistan will be very different from its predecessors,” he said.
“The facade of civilian government is likely to continue to go on… with very little real power. The media will continue to be very active and alive, except when they criticize the military.”