Senators Question Aid to Pakistan Over Harboring Insurgents

U.S Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin
Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the U.S. Armed Services Committee, called for a “robust” reduction of American troops in Afghanistan this year and some hard questions for Pakistan. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Five U.S. senators, all Democrats, asked the State and Defense departments to assess Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism before Congress approves more aid for that nation.

“It is incongruous to be providing enormous sums to the Pakistani military unless we are certain that it is meeting its commitment to locate, disrupt and dismantle terrorist threats inside its borders,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates said during a Pentagon briefing today that he was resistant to the idea of cutting aid, particularly because there is no evidence so far that senior Pakistani leaders were in any way cooperating with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the U.S. raid on his compound that resulted in his death.

“We have to proceed with caution,” Gates said. “We do have significant interests in Pakistan.”

He later added, “We need to continue the assistance that we have provided.”

President Barack Obama has proposed $1.2 billion in aid to Pakistan next year for programs that include counterinsurgency training for its military forces. The senators are urging the Obama administration to gauge whether Pakistan’s government is working to cut support for extremist and terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban, that operate from its territory.

‘Gravely Concerned’

The senators signing the letter were Dianne Feinstein of California, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Max Baucus of Montana and Jon Tester of Montana.

They said they were “gravely concerned about the commitment of Pakistan’s security establishment to fighting terrorism.”

Yesterday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the U.S. should curtail economic aid to Pakistan unless the Islamabad government stops harboring insurgent groups that target American troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said continued financial support to Islamabad should hinge on whether the Pakistani military takes action against the Haqqani Network, an Afghan Taliban-allied group based in Pakistan’s northwestern border region with Afghanistan.

‘Real Problem’

“There is a real problem with continuing financial support for Pakistan when they continue to support the Haqqani Network,” Levin told reporters in Washington yesterday. “These people are killing us. And this is open.”

Pakistan should also arrest members of the Quetta Shura, a group of Afghan Taliban leaders, thought to be based in Pakistan, Levin said.

Levin didn’t elaborate on what he would cut from U.S. economic aid to Pakistan. He said he would allow “certain kinds of military aid” to continue. In particular, he said, he supports reimbursing Pakistan for securing the port where U.S. oil is delivered and subsequently the routes leading into Afghanistan where U.S. and NATO troops are fighting the Taliban. Levin said he is also willing to support Pakistani military training along the border regions with Afghanistan.

At a Senate Foreign Relations hearing yesterday, several other senators, including Republicans Bob Corker of Tennessee and James Risch of Idaho, as well as Democrats Chris Coons of Delaware and Menendez, raised questions about U.S. aid to Pakistan.

Five-Year Package

Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, is one of the architects of a 2009 bill that tripled non-military aid to Pakistan, committing $1.5 billion annually for five years. He briefed members of the Senate Democratic Caucus about his weekend trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan -- the first high-level official visit to Pakistan since a team of U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden there on May 2.

While members from both parties questioned continued U.S. assistance to Pakistan, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cautioned against threats to withdraw aid.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the U.S. should “withhold judgment” and wait for fact-finding. “We need a good relationship with Pakistan, and hope we can have a good relationship with Pakistan,” he said. “But this isn’t the time to start flexing our muscle.”

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, warned against pulling back from Pakistan.

“I don’t think disengaging from Pakistan, a nuclear power, is in America’s best interests,” he said. “There are certainly, as we have learned, a lot of different factions in Pakistan, some of which are friendly to us and some of which are not. We knew that before the Osama bin Laden raid, we still know that.”

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