US Senator John Kerry on Tuesday said he gathered “no indication” during his trip to Islamabad that high-level Pakistani officials had been complicit in hiding Bin Laden.
“They admit things went wrong, they understand that mistakes were made, and they’re going to try to get at it. I’m convinced that they want to find out because they want to hold those folks accountable,” he said.
Terming the Pakistan-US relationship at a critical juncture, US Senator Kerry said both countries need to get it right.
Senator Kerry’s remarks come amid reports of a tussle between the US and Pakistan over Islamabad’s claims for financial compensation for operations against militants.
The Wall Street Journal, citing internal Pentagon documents, reported that Washington has quietly rejected more than 40 per cent of over $3.2 billion in claims submitted by Pakistan for military gear, food, water, troop housing and other expenses.
The claims in question were filed from January 2009 through June 2010.
Citing the documents and US officials, the Journal said that Pakistan had submitted dubious claims or sought funding for actions that Washington did not see as related to the so-called war on terror. In one case, the Pakistani army sought $50 million for “hygiene and chemical expenses”, of which Washington agreed to pay just $8 million, the newspaper cited.
In another case, the US paid millions to refurbish four helicopters to help Pakistan transport troops to the rugged mountains along the Afghanistan border where it is battling the Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
But Pakistan diverted three of the aircraft to peacekeeping duties in Sudan, operations funded by the United Nations, the Journal said, citing US officials.
The newspaper said US denial rates have climbed from a low of 1.6 per cent in 2005 to 38 per cent in 2008 and 44 per cent in 2009.
Pakistani officials deny they are trying to bilk the US and insist that the increased US scrutiny has offended Islamabad, reported the Journal.
“People have to give a receipt for every cup of tea they drink or every kilometre they drive,” it quoted a Pakistani official as saying.
Briefing his congressional colleagues about the assurances he received from Pakistani officials during his visit to Islamabad, Kerry said Pakistan was stepping up efforts to battle extremists and stabilise Afghanistan.
“Some of the things that are very important to us strategically, but they are not appropriate to discuss publicly,” said the US senator.
Kerry, newly returned from a whirlwind visit to both countries, said he had heard “frustration” from top Pakistani officials about the US raid that killed the al Qaeda leader, but had made clear Washington expects more from its ally.
“This relationship will not be measured by words or by communiques after meetings like the ones that I engaged in. It will only be measured by actions,” he said.
Kerry said Pakistani leaders had pledged new efforts to cooperate with Washington.
“They are concrete, they are precise, they are measurable and they are in many cases joint – and we will know precisely what is happening with them in very, very short order,” he said.
“I’m very, very confident about a number of those things having a major impact on the things we need to do,” said Kerry, who promised to detail the new initiatives to his colleagues in a closed-door session expected next week.
Kerry said high-level US-Pakistan talks “that will begin very, very soon” would touch on “some larger issues” and added that if they go well then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will decide “when and if” to visit Pakistan.
US lawmakers’ frustration was evident on Tuesday as Kerry’s committee quizzed US President Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, retired General Jim Jones, about prospects for improved US-Pakistan ties.
“You have a partner who can seem, as some have said, to be both firefighter and arsonist simultaneously,” said US Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the panel and Obama’s former foreign policy mentor.
Jones repeatedly questioned the judgment of Pakistani leaders - saying that “logic doesn’t always play a dominant role” in decision-making in Islamabad – but said he hoped they would forcefully cast their lot in with Washington. “I’m hopeful that at long last, cooler heads will prevail and logic will come into the equation and our colleagues in Pakistan will see the future with a little bit more of a strategic vision,” said Jones.
Pressed on whether Washington should freeze aid, Jones replied “I would counsel against what might be a very tempting thing to do” and warned against “long-term consequences” for US interests in the region.
Kerry said Pakistan’s role would affect Obama’s plans to start withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan in July and hand over security to Afghan forces in 2014.
“We will pursue our policy in Afghanistan to the best of our ability no matter what,” the senator said, but the Pakistanis “hold the key to the fastest, least costly, most effective” drawdown.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2011.
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