May 3, 2011

Congress may dock Pakistan aid over bin Laden

Donna Cassata, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Congress may consider cutting the almost $1.3 billion in annual aid to Pakistan if it turns out the Islamabad government knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee said today.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she wants more details from CIA Director Leon Panetta and others about the Pakistani government's role. Feinstein spoke to reporters about the raid that killed bin Laden early Monday and the questions raised by his hiding place deep inside Pakistan.

The No. 2 House Democratic leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said if Pakistan doesn't ease doubts about its dedication to fighting terrorists, Congress should explore whether it makes sense to reduce U.S. aid to that country.

"I don't know whether it would be effective or counterproductive, we'll have to look at that," he told reporters, adding, "It needs to be looked into."

Incredulous lawmakers are pressing Pakistan for answers to two simple questions: What did its army and intelligence agents know of bin Laden's whereabouts and when did they know it?

The al-Qaida terrorist leader behind the Sept. 11 attacks lived and died in a massive, fortified compound built in 2005 and located on the outskirts of Abbottabad, miles from the capital of Islamabad. It stood just a half-mile from the Kakul Military Academy, Pakistan's equivalent of West Point, and close to various army regiments.

Amid the high praise for the successful U.S. military operation, congressional Republicans and Democrats questioned whether bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, with Pakistani military and intelligence operatives either totally unaware of his location or willfully ignoring his presence to protect him.

"I think this tells us once again that, unfortunately, Pakistan at times is playing a double game," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a Senate Armed Services Committee member who indicated that Congress could put limits on funds for Pakistan.

But another GOP member of the panel dismissed that idea.

"For those who want to cut off aid to Pakistan, I understand your frustration," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "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. It is not in our national security interest to let this one event destroy what is a difficult partnership but a partnership nonetheless."

The Obama administration pushed back on talk of punishing Pakistan.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. is committed to cooperating with Pakistan despite questions about who in the Islamabad government may have known that bin Laden was in hiding in his compound in Abbottabad.

"We don't know who if anybody in the government was aware that bin Laden or a high-value target was living in the compound. It's logical to assume he had a supporting network. What constituted that network remains to be seen," Carney said. "It's a big country and a big government and we have to be very focused and careful about how we do this because it is an important relationship."

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. aid "is in both Pakistan's long-term interests as well as the United States' national interests and security interests."

Bin Laden's death and questions about Pakistan's eagerness in the fight against terrorism come as the tenuous U.S.-Pakistan relationship seems even more fragile. In recent weeks, CIA contractor Raymond Davis' killing of two Pakistanis and stepped-up drone attacks have further strained ties between the two countries.

Different factions within Pakistan itself complicate its role as a U.S. ally. What state officials and those in the military may have known about bin Laden could be quite different from what tribes and even families in the region knew or, more to the point, were willing to say about the Abbottabad compound and its occupants.

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