May 16, 2011
ISLAMABAD — A top U.S. emissary warned Pakistan on Monday that “actions not words” are needed to tackle militant sanctuaries, as the two countries tried to salvage their relationship two weeks after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a garrison town close to the national capital.
Sen. John Kerry, the first high-level American official to visit Islamabad since the May 2 death of the al-Qaida leader, said Pakistan agreed to take several “specific steps” immediately to improve ties.
But he did not say whether those steps include what the U.S. wants most: action against the Haqqani network and other Taliban factions sheltering in Pakistan and killing American troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
Although the United States says it has no evidence that Pakistan’s civil or military leadership knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts, the knowledge that the U.S. might find some evidence in the documents seized in the terror leader’s compound has given it new leverage over Islamabad.
Pakistan has long balked at U.S. requests to crack down on Afghan Taliban factions on its soil. The Taliban and al-Qaida have close ties, and suspicions over Pakistani complicity in hiding bin Laden have fostered further questions about whether Pakistan is not only tolerating but perhaps even supporting other militants.
Kerry noted that several members of the U.S. Congress no longer want to authorize U.S. aid to Pakistan given the suspicions generated by the bin Laden raid.
“Members of Congress are not confident that things can be patched up again,” said Kerry, who chairs the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and is considered a friend of Pakistan. “That is why actions not words are going to be critical to earning their votes.”
Bin Laden’s hideaway in Abbottabad, which also houses Pakistan’s version of West Point, has compounded questions in America’s eyes over this country’s reliability as an ally. Pakistanis reacted angrily to the U.S. incursion on their soil.
Kerry’s public comments and a later joint statement with Pakistan’s army and intelligence chiefs after a series of meetings indicated willingness on both sides to stabilize a vital relationship.
Still, there were few immediate tangible signs of progress.
Kerry said Pakistan agreed to hand over the tail of a classified stealth helicopter that was destroyed by the American commandos when it malfunctioned on the raid on bin Laden’s hideaway. He also said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would soon announce a trip to the country.
Late Monday, U.S. missiles fired from a drone hit a house and car a region close to the Afghan border that is home to al-Qaida and Taliban leaders, killing seven militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The suspected identities of the dead in North Waziristan were not released.
The U.S. attack came two days after the Pakistani parliament, following a debate dominated by anger over the bin Laden raid, demanded an end to the missile strikes as well. The drone strikes are intensely unpopular among Pakistanis but, at least in the past, have been carried out with the consent of Pakistani authorities. It was unclear if the latest attack would generate more rancor.
Nominal allies since 2001 when Pakistan severed its links to the Taliban in Afghanistan and supported the U.S.-led invasion, relations between the two countries have never been smooth. Many Pakistanis are hostile to the United States and its presence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan allows the United States to truck much of its war supplies over its soil into Afghanistan. Its ties with Afghan Taliban factions means it will also be important to negotiating an end to the war there, as Washington now believes is inevitable.
For its part, Pakistan desperately needs U.S. assistance to keep its economy afloat and its army equipped against the threat it perceives from rising regional giant India.
That means neither the U.S. nor Pakistan can afford a complete break in relations regardless of how tense the relations become.
“We have got to get the job done (in Afghanistan), and we need Pakistan’s cooperation, and they need ours,” Kerry told reporters. “And that’s where we need to work on and I think we have made a lot of progress on that.”
Mark Morrel, the deputy director of the CIA, and Marc Grossman, the Obama administration’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, are also expected to visit Pakistan soon.
The American raid was initially welcomed by Pakistan’s president and prime minister, but the mood changed after a day or so when the army — the real power center in the country — issued angry statements accusing the United States of violating its sovereignty.
Monday’s joint statement said both sides pledged to work together in any future actions against “high value targets” in Pakistan, apparently an attempt to placate Pakistanis angry that the army was not told in advance about the raid on bin Laden’s compound. The statement did not explicitly rule out any more unilateral raids against al-Qaida and Taliban targets in the country, something that American officials have also declined to do in recent days.
“My goal in coming here is not to apologize for what I consider to be a triumph against terrorism of unprecedented consequence,” Kerry said. “My goal in coming here has been to talk about how we manage this important relationship.”
Associated Press writers Nahal Toosi and Sebastian Abbot contributed to this report.