The White House has launched an aggressive effort to defuse widespread American anger at Pakistan, with National Security Adviser Tom Donilon warning Sunday against any break in American ties with the strategically important country where Osama bin Laden was hiding for at least the last six years.
The campaign comes after a week of congressional threats to cut off U.S. aid in reprisal against the Pakistani leaders who either were complicit in hiding the terrorist leader or ignorant that he was living near the country’s leading military academy.
Donilon got an assist from Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, who pledged a full investigation and continued intelligence cooperation. And he got help from a frequent critic of the administration: former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who stressed Pakistan’s crucial role in the war in Afghanistan.
The three all said that there is no evidence that Pakistan knew bin Laden was living near a major military academy. Rumsfeld even compared it to the United States, saying officials at the Pentagon don’t know who is living in large estates nearby in Virginia.
Donilon called for the upcoming debate on U.S. aid to be conducted “in a calm and cool way” that recognizes Pakistan’s important contributions. As a prelude to that debate, he told Candy Crowley on CNN’s State of the Union that the administration is watching to see whether Pakistan grants the United States full access to bin Laden’s wives who were in the terrorist leader’s compound and to intelligence material left there.
He also urged critics not to jump to the conclusion that Pakistan’s leaders were complicit in hiding bin Laden. “I've not seen any evidence at least to date that the political, military, or intelligence leadership of Pakistan knew about Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, Pakistan,” he said, adding, “I've not seen any evidence to indicate that they had fore knowledge of this.”
But he said those leaders must answer for the fact “that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad, Pakistan—35 miles from Islamabad—in a town that was essentially seen as a military town.... That needs to be investigated.”
He said the Pakistanis are dealing now with “a very big set of questions in their country about what happened and how this came about. The Pakistanis need to investigate that. We need to work with them to investigate what's happened, and how Osama bin Laden came to this place as his home for the last six years.”
He said it is “very important” that Pakistan grant U.S. officials access “both to the people, including three wives who they now have in custody from the compound, as well as additional materials that they took from the compound.”
Donilon praised Pakistan for its cooperation overall in the fight against terrorists, saying, “the fact also is that more terrorists and extremists have been captured or killed in Pakistan soil than any other place in the world.” On ABC’s This Week, he said Pakistan has been “an essential partner of ours in the war against al-Qaida.”
Also on the ABC show, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Haqqani, promised to share intelligence with the United States and pledged a full investigation of his country’s role in harboring the al-Qaida leader. But he denied that anyone in the government knew he was in their midst.
“If any member of the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military, or the Pakistani intelligence service knew where Osama bin Laden was, we would have taken action,” he said. He did not deny that there was an intelligence failure, though he put some of the blame on U.S. priorities in the region.
“The United States spent much more money in Iraq than it did in Afghanistan. Then it spent much more money in Afghanistan than it did in Pakistan. So were there cracks through which things fell through? Absolutely, and we’ll investigate that. We’ll get to the bottom of it.”
He promised that if the investigation finds Pakistani officials culpable, “heads will roll.” He said if incompetence is to blame, they will admit that. And, he added, “if, God forbid, somebody’s complicity is discovered, there will be zero tolerance.”
Asked what Pakistan is learning from the people taken from bin Laden’s compound, he talked of how they led their daily lives while in hiding. “We understand that one of the wives never left the floor of Osama bin Laden because they were paranoid about physical movement. They didn’t go to windows. They didn’t have any fresh air, so to speak. All these people are being interrogated.”
Rumsfeld, on CBS’s Face the Nation, said those who want to cut off aid to Pakistan need to understand the critical role Pakistan plays in the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. “We need to recognize... that we supply our coalition forces in Afghanistan from Pakistan. We have damaged our relationships up with Uzbekistan on the northern border. And we need to maintain those relationships.”
He added, “We've been able to do a great many things, some with their open cooperation, some with their silent acquiescence. And it's a complex problem they've got. It's a Muslim country. They have nuclear weapons. They have problems with the tribes on both sides of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he does not anticipate Congress will force a cut-off of U.S. aid. “No, I don’t see that at all,” he said. “As a matter of fact, Pakistan is a critical factor in the war against terror” because of the nation’s al-Qaida and Taliban presence and because Pakistan is a nuclear state.
But Lugar was not as quick as Donilon to state that there is no evidence of Pakistani complicity in shielding bin Laden. “It appears to me very logical that if Osama bin Laden was in that home for six years in time, near a group of people there that were connected with the military, then a lot of people in Pakistan knew about his whereabouts,” Lugar said. “Now, the problem is that the divisions in the Pakistani government between the ISI—the intelligence people—the military, the civilians, are very, very severe. It’s not really clear how many persons in each of these categories were informed... [but] when something like this occurs, the divisions then within that government become more acute.”
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