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'Pakistan can't be coming to US Congress and asking for $3bn after this!'

May 04, 2011 11:30 IST
Post the Osama killing, Inter-Services Intelligence's alleged perfidy is under the miscroscope with calls for US leaders to cut off aid to Pakistan, reports Aziz Haniffa.

Soon after Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta provided a classified briefing to the House leadership in the US Congress on the covert mission inside Pakistan that killed Al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden, he was peppered with a volley of questions. He was quizzed about Pakistani duplicity, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence's perfidy about how it could have not known about bin Laden living right under its nose in Abbottabad, where the Kakul Military Academy is located.

Sources told that Panetta had acknowledged his frustration and anger over Pakistan's claimed ignorance that bin Laden had been living in this garrison town for years, which was on the outskirts of Islamabad. He too found it incredulous that the Pakistani military and the ISI were unaware that bin Laden was holed up in the suspicious $1 million mansion and that the Pakistani intelligence were either "complicit or totally incompetent," and that "neither was acceptable".

Later, Panetta, in interviews with the television networks CBS News and NBC news, rubbished the claim by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in an op-ed article in The Washington Post that Pakistan had cooperated and did its part in helping to identify the Al Qaeda courier that finally led the US to bin Laden. The CIA chief asserted, "The operation that killed Osama was a unilateral mission, which Pakistan had no knowledge of."

In an interview with Time magazine, Panetta didn't mince words, saying flat out, "The US had decided to go it alone because it couldn't trust Pakistan."

Congressman Peter King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who was one of the members briefed by Panetta, in an interaction with reporters, said, from the get go, "There were questions about what ISI knew and didn't know. That was brought up by members in their questions."

King also said he had also been discussing this issue with "people over the last several days," including "the Pakistani chief of mission." "I was not convinced about Pakistan's credibility or commitment to the US-led war on terror and that the allegations of ISI duplicity was far from resolved," he added.

"How the ISI, which is a very effective intelligence agency, would not have seen this and, also in view of past actions by the ISI which have compromised the United States," he said.

Rubbishing the contention by Pakistan and its envoy to the US Hussain Haqqani, who was doing the rounds of Capitol Hill to convince lawmakers that Pakistan was a committed ally but was being treated like a pariah, King said "I would say, they are still on talking points -- just telling us what great allies they are."

"But I was trying to drive home to them that this relationship now has changed. They are at a crossroads and you can't be coming to the Congress and ask for $3 billion after this. And expect to get it without serious, serious questions being asked and the relationship being re-analysed," he said.

When the Congressman was asked if this meant the Pakistanis led by Haqqani and others had failed to convince him in every way of their view, he said they had failed miserably, but noted, "I am not rushing to judgment other than to say it's really theirs to resolve."

But King added he had no qualms about being "willing to make a judgment that we've not gotten the cooperation we need and my question is how there's going to be justice in future."

When reminded that Mike Rogers, his Republican colleague and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee had said he does not believe the Pakistani government had institutional knowledge of bin Laden being in his secret hideout in Abbottabad, he said, "I have great regard for Mike Rogers. That could well be true. The question is institutional knowledge as opposed to people operating within the government that are known by the government and are allowed to flourish."

Asked if he agreed with the clamour by several lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, that the massive $ 1.5 billion in aid annually to Pakistan should be cut off, King said, "We have to begin very serious discussion, talks and negotiations."

He acknowledged that the US-Pakistani ties are an important relationship. "I don't want to trivialise it at all. And we have to make a judgment as to whether it is better to pursue it or not pursue the relationship. I think we have to pursue it and decide though how it's going to change, how it's going to restructured," King added.

Over on the Senate side, Senator Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also expressed incredulity over Pakistan claiming it was unaware that bin Laden was living its Abbotabad and said not knowing was equally culpable. She said the Senate would also seriously consider the massive American largesse being provided to Pakistan both in terms of economic and military aid and cutting it if it were found that Pakistan was playing a double game.

Feinstein's sentiments were echoed by Senate Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said, "I think this tells us once again that, unfortunately, Pakistan at times is playing a double game," and who also indicated that Congress could put limits on the massive aid being provided Pakistan.

But another Republican colleague of Collins, who was serves on the Armed Services Committee, warned that such aid cuts to Pakistan would be counterproductive.

Senator Lindsay Graham, of South Carolina, said, "For those who want to cut off aid to Pakistan, I understand your frustration. But at the end of the day, if you want to create a failed state in Pakistan, one of the best things to do is sever relationships."

Thus, he asserted, " It is not in our national security interest to let this one event destroy what is a difficult partnership but a partnership nonetheless."


Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC