Keeping in mind Pakistan’s nuclear assets, its role in Afghanistan and the fact that both the US and Pakistan are partners in the war against terrorism, Washington has no choice but to maintain relations with Islamabad, said Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday.
Addressing a packed audience of Congressmen, policymakers and students at the National Defence University, Panetta said that the US and Pakistan have ‘a very complicated relationship.’
Listing US concerns with Pakistan such as its ‘links with the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Pakistan’s refusal to issue visas, and concerns about its nuclear programme’, Panetta said that despite it all, “there is no choice but to maintain a relationship with Pakistan.”
(Read: What would happen if Pakistan and the US severed ties?)
Unsavoury, but imperative
“What makes this (relationship) complicated is that they (Pakistanis) have relationships with the Haqqanis … who are going across the border and attacking our forces in Afghanistan,” he said.
“There’s a relationship with LeT. And, you know, this is a group that goes into India and threatens attacks there. It has conducted attacks there,” said Panetta, who recently stepped down as CIA director to take over at the Pentagon.
However, he said, there were vital interests at stake that meant Washington had to stay committed to the partnership.
“And yet there is no choice but to maintain a relationship with Pakistan. Why? Because we’re fighting a war there … because we are fighting al Qaeda there, and they [Pakistanis] do give us, you know, some cooperation in that effort,” Panetta said.
“They do represent an important force in that region. Because they do happen to be a nuclear power that has nuclear weapons and we have to be concerned about what happens with those nuclear weapons.” He added that there were going to be ‘ups and downs’ in the relationship with Pakistan.
Asked if their ‘best asset’ – drone – is their ‘worst nightmare,’ both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Panetta immediately replied with a resounding ‘no’. Clinton added that relations between the US and Pakistan were in the long-term interest of both the countries.
She tried to convey Pakistan’s fears and doubts to the audience by quoting the end of the movie ‘Charlie Wilson’s War,’ where the Congressman had wanted to build schools and help both Afghanistan and Pakistan after the Soviets were defeated in the late 80s, but the US left after the war ended, leading to Pakistan’s concerns vis-a-vis the US role in the area.
“Pakistan has a viewpoint that needs to be seen with some respect,” said the secretary of state.
Panetta, who also declined to talk directly about drones, alluded to the subject by saying that the US was taking action against not just those al Qaeda terrorists who were plotting attacks against the US, but also those who were attacking the Pakistani people.
“It is in their interest to go after the terrorists … they can’t pick and choose their interest,” he said.
Asked about reports that Islamabad might have allowed Chinese engineers to examine a US helicopter that crash landed during the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout, Panetta declined to confirm or deny the accounts. “I’m not going to comment because it does relate to classified intelligence,” he added.
US stems funds to Haqqani network
In a related development, the US said on Tuesday that it has taken actions aimed at stemming the flow of funds and other aid to a commander of the Haqqani network.
(Read: US tries to stem funds to Haqqani network commander)
Secretary of State Clinton designated commander Sangeen Zadran under an executive order signed by President George W Bush in 2001 in a bid to block funds to suspected terrorists, the State Department said.
“As a result of the designation, all property subject to US jurisdiction in which Sangeen has any interest is blocked and US persons are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with him,” it added.
“Zadran is the shadow governor for Paktika province, Afghanistan and a commander of the Haqqani network,” it said.
Sangeen also acts as a senior lieutenant to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the State Department said. (With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2011.