Pakistan’s imposition of a 33-year prison term on a doctor who aided the U.S. in the hunt for Osama bin Laden won’t help to re-establish normal relations with the U.S., Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
“It is so difficult to understand, and it’s so disturbing that they would sentence this doctor to 33 years for helping in the search for the most notorious terrorist of our times,” Panetta said today on ABC’s “This Week.”
A court in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region convicted the doctor, Shakil Afridi, of treason on May 23. Afridi was charged with running a fake vaccination program in Abbottabad, the town where bin Laden hid for as long as five years, to obtain a DNA sample from those living in the compound where the al-Qaeda leader was shot dead by Navy SEALs in May 2011.
The jailing will challenge already complicated U.S.- Pakistan relations, Panetta said. Pakistan remains an important nation in the region because it has nuclear weapons, Panetta said.
“It’s an up-and-down relationship,” Panetta said. “They’re dealing with the terrorist threat just like we are.”
“Our responsibility here is to keep pushing them to understand how important it is for them to work with us to try to deal with the common threats we both face,” Panetta said.
On Afghanistan, Panetta said progress has been made to reduce organized attacks by the Taliban, and violence has subsided. The Afghan army is more capable of providing security, with more than 50 percent of the population under local control, he said. Yet the job isn’t over, he said.
While the draw-down of U.S. troops is on schedule for 2014, it doesn’t mean the U.S. will be completely out of Afghanistan, Panetta said. Support will continue for counterterrorism efforts, training and guidance, he said. U.S. officials are concerned about neighboring Pakistan remaining a safe haven for terrorists.
“We still have a fight on our hands,” Panetta said. “We’re still dealing with the Taliban. Although they’ve been weakened, they are resilient.”
In a May 25 interview on CNN, U.S. Marine Corps General John Allen, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said the U.S. will transfer command of combat operations to the Afghan military after 2013, and he will report to the president by the end of this year on steps needed to withdraw 23,000 troops.
Afghan leaders have arrested more than 160 people in their security forces in the past several months who might be plotting attacks against the international troops, Allen said.
“It’s a concern, of course it’s a concern,” Panetta said on ABC today. “It’s the kind of thing that the Taliban would use to come at our forces. And it’s an indication again that because they can’t organize efforts to come at us, they’re going to use this kind of tactic to try to frighten us.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at firstname.lastname@example.org