Congress weighs future relations
Wes Woods II, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/03/2011 05:19:22 PM PDT

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

Some Congress members are debating whether aid to Pakistan should be cut after it was learned that the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was living just a half-mile from the Kakul Military Academy, Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, and close to various army regiments in Abbottabad.

Republicans and Democrats have asked if bin Laden was hiding in plain sight with Pakistani military and intelligence operatives either unaware of his location or willfully ignoring his presence to protect him.

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

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she wants more details from CIA director Leon Panetta and others about the Pakistani government’s role.

The al-Qaida terrorist leader lived and died in a massive, fortified compound built in 2005 and located on the outskirts of Abbottabad, some 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad. A Navy Seals team killed bin Laden on Sunday night in a raid at the hideout.

Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, said bin Laden residing only a few hundred feet away from a military training facility raises serious questions about Pakistan’s legitimacy as a key ally of the United States in the fight against terrorists and extremists.

“It’s time for the United States to have a very serious conversation with Pakistani officials to ask them just how bin Laden could have been living under their noses without anyone noticing,” Baca said.

Bin Laden lived in a massive, fortified compound built in 2005 that was located on the outskirts of Abbottabad, miles from the capital of Islamabad.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, wondered why Pakistani leadership, their intelligence officials and military did not discuss anything with U.S. officials.

“It is a challenge to our entire set of relations and attitudes,” Lewis said. “We’ve got reason to question how much they’re willing to help us.

“I think Pakistan has absolutely been the weak link in trying to locate … Osama bin Laden. They have protected him in spite of their public projection that they are our ally and friend.”

Lewis said the revelation about bin Laden’s hideout should force U.S. officials to question “what we should think of information coming from Pakistan and what we’re hearing from the leaders of Pakistan’s government.”

Lewis said he hopes questions about Pakistani intelligence will come up during the Senate confirmation hearing for Panetta, who President Barack Obama recently appointed as secretary of defense.

Baca, however, did not want to take any action against Pakistan for the incident.

“But before taking any drastic retaliatory actions against Pakistan, we must remember that Pakistan is both geographically and culturally critical in our efforts to stabilize the Middle East region, and Afghanistan in particular,” Baca said.

“As White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan recently noted, Pakistan has been responsible for capturing and killing more terrorists than any other foreign ally of ours.”

Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, sent out a statement Tuesday acknowledging concerns over Pakistan’s actions but refusing to give a definite answer.

“The Pakistanis clearly have some hard questions to answer, but that the fundamental situation remains the same – our relationship with Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country that provides logistical access for our troops in Afghanistan, is of strategic importance and we need to do everything we can to engage with those within its government who are battling the violent extremists who are our shared enemy.

“That is why the House Democracy Partnership is working with the Pakistani legislature to strengthen the democratic institutions within the government so that it can combat the very forces that may have helped bin Laden hide in plain sight for so long.”

Local experts said the situation was delicate because of Pakistan’s nuclear arms and strategic location.

“They’re both friendly and unfriendly elements in the Pakistani government,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

“The president’s remarks on Sunday night suggested we want to encourage the friendly elements and discourage unfriendly elements. The danger is the Congressional elections might deprive the president of the flexibility he needs to conduct foreign policy in that region.”

Congress members want to send a signal to elements of the Pakistani government that “we are aware of what they’ve done and aren’t happy about it,” Pitney said.

“The threat may give the president some leverage in dealing with the Pakistanis as he can portray members of Congress as a bad cop and he as good cop.”

Pitney said if funding was pulled from Pakistan it could deprive the U.S. of a presence in the country and provide for a tricky situation.

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