WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States needs to maintain strong ties with Pakistan and should not use Osama bin Laden’s death as reason to “run for the exits” in Afghanistan, former Vice President Dick Cheney said on Sunday.
In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” the famously hawkish Republican said it was critical for Washington to stay engaged in South Asia and not let suspicions about Pakistan over the al Qaeda leader’s hideout in that country sour the key strategic relationship.
“If we turn and walk away from Pakistan, Afghanistan or that part of the world generally I am fearful that we are headed for trouble down the road. We do have a vested interest in what is going on in that part of the world,” he said.
Tensions between the nuclear powers Pakistan and India over the Kashmir region are a concern for Washington. U.S. and NATO forces also move supplies to the Afghan war through Pakistan.
“We need to tend to that interest and we need to safeguard our strategic capabilities there. And I think we need to maintain relationships, working relationships, with Pakistan, Afghanistan and the rest of them. I don’t think we need to run for the exits,” Cheney said.
Cheney, who was Defense Secretary during the first U.S. invasion of Iraq, was heavily involved in military strategy as vice president to George W. Bush including the “war on terror” launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks by al Qaeda.
He also stressed a need for conciliation with Pakistan, which has faced heat since bin Laden was discovered and killed last week at a compound in Abbottabad, near the headquarters of the Pakistani army’s Baluch Regiment.
Pakistan has dismissed suggestions that the government or security establishment knew bin Laden was there.
“We need to be able to work with the government of Pakistan,” he said. “We need to make clear, obviously, that we don’t appreciate it if in fact as a matter of policy they were providing safe harbor or sanctuary for bin Laden. In the end we got him, that’s what counts.
Reporting by Laura MacInnis, Editing by Jackie Frank