ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan and the United States reaffirmed their commitment on Tuesday to fight Islamist militancy on Tuesday, a day after the killing of Osama bin Laden presented an opportunity to reconcile strained ties and find a solution to the Afghan conflict.
Pakistan has faced enormous international scrutiny since bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in a military garrison town about 60 km (35 miles) north of Islamabad on Monday, not least over whether its military and intelligence agencies were unaware of the al Qaeda leader’s location, or knew and failed to act.
Senior officials from the United States and Pakistan have sought to play down such concerns, saying bin Laden’s killing was a “shared achievement,” but the questions underscored the deep divisions between the two nations.
“This of course was the end of someone who was violently subverting democratic governments in the region,” U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, told reporters after a three-way meeting also involving Afghanistan.
Washington and Islamabad have clashed in the past over Pakistan’s commitment to the fight against Islamist militancy.
Western leaders have long been concerned about Islamist militants from al Qaeda, the Taliban and other groups using safe havens and training camps in Pakistan’s remote and largely lawless northwest
Islamabad in turn has been angered by the use of pilotless U.S. drones to attack targets on Pakistan soil.
But the killing of bin Laden could help smooth earlier tensions and coincides with a shake-up of Washington’s senior security team which includes sending diplomatic heavyweight Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. envoy to Pakistan, to Kabul.
Some analysts saw the killing at least as an opportunity to address existing relationships.
“Relationships with Pakistan — both for the U.S. and Afghanistan — can still go both ways,” Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Netowrk, said in a blog (www.aan-afghanistan.com)..
“It depends on Pakistan’s public stance and what kind of story all sides want to spin. There is the possibility to present this as another ‘change of heart’ moment,” she said.
Grossman said bin Laden was “notorious for murderous acts against civilians that make him an enemy not only of the United States, but also of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Officials, however, deflected questions about the bin Laden operation, the fallout from which has seen increased pressure on Pakistan’s weak civilian government to explain how the al Qaeda leader could have sought refuge near the country’s main military’s main academy in the town of Abbottabad.
“Who did what is beside the point... this issue of Osama bin Laden is history,” Pakistani foreign secretary Salman Bashir told a joint news conference in Islamabad.
“The main purpose of today’s meeting was... to move toward a new beginning and I think that is what we stayed focused on, and that’s important. I think we ought to look at our future,” Bashir said.
Grossman said both sides wanted to move beyond recriminations and finger-pointing.
Pakistan is crucial for U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, where violence hit its worst levels last year since the Taliban were toppled in 2001 despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops.
However Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has long been suspected of maintaining links with militants behind attacks against U.S.-led foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Bashir said Pakistan and the United States had “robust cooperation” to fight militancy that would continue.
Additional reporting by Paul Tait in Kabul; editing by Rebecca Conway and Sanjeev Miglani