The United States Wednesday acknowledged “challenges” in relations with Pakistan after a report that the government there has arrested informants who helped U.S. intelligence find Osama bin Laden. But the Obama administration says security cooperation with Pakistan remains in both countries' best interests.
The New York Times report about the arrest of CIA informants in the bin Laden case has spurred Congressional calls for closer scrutiny of U.S. aid to Pakistan.
But U.S. spokesmen are stressing the continued value of engagement with, and aid to, Pakistan, and saying the Obama administration is committed to working through what they term challenges in the relationship.
The New York Times quoted U.S. officials as saying Pakistan has arrested informants, including a Pakistani army major, who fed the CIA information that led to the May 2 U.S. military raid near Islamabad that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan has denied that any army officer had been detained but said there have been arrests after the raid and that those held are under investigation.
Administration spokesmen declined comment on the reported arrests. However at a Washington policy forum, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, without elaboration, that Pakistan had done “more than” arrest the informants, while lamenting leaks from a closed Senate intelligence briefing that apparently spurred the Times report.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said U.S. relations with Pakistan are “complicated,” but that anti-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan is vital to American interests.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner, meanwhile, said the parade of high-level U.S. visitors to Pakistan since the May 2 raid underlines the commitment of the two countries to “work through” their problems.
"I think we’ve been up-front about challenges in the relationship. But we’ve also been consistent in saying that Pakistan and the U.S. need each other," he said. "We need to work through these challenges, because it’s in both of our long term, and short term frankly, interests to do so.”
There were bipartisan expressions of concern from U.S. Congress members Wednesday about the New York Times report and earlier accounts of leaks of U.S.-provided intelligence by the Pakistani security apparatus that foiled raids on militant bomb factories along the Pakistani-Afghan border.
Senator Graham called the intelligence incidents “a dynamic” that is undermining Congressional support for Pakistani aid, and which must stop.
“After bin Laden, if you’re listening in Pakistan, it is almost impossible for an American politician to continue to help Pakistan," he said. "The American people are so sour on this relationship. And having said that, as hard as I’ve been today on Pakistan, the worst thing we could do is abandon them. As long as there’s some hope, I think we need to stay engaged.”
At a Senate hearing, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy called Pakistan only a “putative ally.” He asked witnesses including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the military Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen how long the United States should go on supporting governments that “lie to us.”
Mullen, among top U.S. officials to visit Islamabad in recent weeks, said Congressional criticism of Pakistan is valid but said walking away from the relationship will only harm U.S. interests.
“I don’t push back on the challenge associated with it. Some of the criticism is more than warranted," he said. "Nobody’s worked that harder than me, very frankly, with the [Pakistani] leadership. And it’s a conscious decision I think that we have to make. And if we walk away from it, it’s my view it’ll be a much more dangerous place a decade from now, and we’ll be back.”
The New York Times said the CIA gave Pakistan low marks on counter-terrorism cooperation at last week’s closed Senate briefing.
But a spokeswoman for CIA director Leon Panetta said he had “productive” meetings last week in Islamabad on issues raised following the bin Laden raid, and that the U.S.-Pakistan partnership is crucial.