ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A visiting senior United States senator warned Pakistanis on Monday that members of Congress were asking “tough questions” about economic aid to Islamabad after Osama bin Laden was killed on Pakistani soil.
Senator John Kerry told a news conference he had not come to Islamabad to apologize for the May 2 secret U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden and infuriated the Pakistani military.
But the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Democrat close to President Barack Obama, said U.S.-Pakistani ties were too important to be unraveled by the incident.
In a veiled warning to the Pakistani security establishment, made up of the powerful military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, he said: “The road ahead will not be defined by words. It will be defined by actions.”
“I emphasized to our Pakistani friends — and they are friends — that many in Congress are raising tough questions about our ongoing economic assistance to the government of Pakistan because of the events as they unfolded, and because of the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan,” he said.
Washington’s fragile ties with ally Islamabad took a beating after U.S. special forces flew in from Afghanistan on a secret operation and killed bin Laden on May 2, nearly 10 years after he orchestrated the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Pakistani intelligence officials said on Monday that 12 militants were killed and four wounded in separate missile attacks by U.S. pilotless aircraft in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, region seen as a global hub for militants.
Such drone operations have fueled anti-American sentiment in Pakistan because they are seen as a violation of its sovereignty.
An intelligence official said one of the dead militants, an Arab, was the son of an al Qaeda operative identified as Abu Kashif. There was no way to verify the death toll. Militants often dispute official accounts of drone attacks.
Kerry told his hosts it was necessary to keep them in the dark before the bin Laden raid to ensure its success, and asked Pakistanis to “see this in its historical, critical light.”
No one in the Pakistani government or military was notified beforehand, infuriating and humiliating the army and government.
Kerry said few people in the White House had prior knowledge of the operation, and even General David Petraeus, commander of the war in Afghanistan, was informed only a few days in advance.
About half of Pakistanis were “sad” about the killing of bin Laden, a survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan said, findings likely to frustrate the United States which wants the country to crack down harder on militants.
Kerry said there was “no evidence the high leadership of this country, whether civilian or military had any knowledge” of bin Laden’s presence, but added that some members of Congress were not confident that ties could be repaired.
The senator made clear that any Pakistani inquiry into how bin Laden managed to evade notice by the ISI or the military for years would be fact-checked against intelligence gathered by Navy SEALs at his compound.
“We have a treasure trove of information that has been made available,” he said. Pakistan has rarely made the results of its fact-finding efforts public or acted on them.
Kerry said a series of steps would be taken rebuild trust between the two countries. One would be the return to the United States of the tail section of a helicopter destroyed in the raid. Its unusual design suggests a previously unknown make of helicopter that could have stealth capabilities.
Two senior administration officials would come to Pakistan later this week to prepare for a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he added.
The Pakistani prime minister’s office said the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, and the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mark Morrel, would visit Pakistan.
Bin Laden’s discovery in the comfortable garrison town of Abbottabad, only 50 km (30 miles) from the capital, has deeply embarrassed the military and spy agency, reviving suspicion that Pakistan knew where he was and has been playing a double game.
Pakistan has rejected that as absurd, and its parliament has condemned the U.S. raid as a violation of its sovereignty and called for a review of ties.
Compounding Pakistan’s reputation as an unstable Muslim country infested with militants, gunmen on motorcycles shot dead a Saudi diplomat in the city of Karachi as he drove to work.
Al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban militants, who have vowed to strike back for the killing of Saudi-born bin Laden, claimed responsibility.
Additional reporting by Kamran Haider and Rebecca Conway in Islamabad, Faisal Aziz in Karachi and Haji Mujtaba in Miranshah; Editing by Peter Graff