WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Pakistan on Thursday that U.S. military aid could suffer if Islamabad failed to address rising U.S. doubts over its commitment to fighting Islamist militants.
Clinton told a Senate panel that the Obama administration viewed Pakistan as a crucial partner as it seeks to wind down the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan and vanquish al Qaeda and other militant groups.
But under skeptical questioning from U.S. lawmakers, Clinton said Washington remained concerned that Pakistan’s actions were sometimes not lining up with its words — and that it could affect the billions of dollars in annual U.S. aid to Pakistan.
“When it comes to our military aid, we are not prepared to continue providing that at the pace we were providing it unless and until we see some steps taken,” Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
She didn’t specify the steps, but stressed it was time for the United States and Pakistan — which saw relations deeply strained after U.S. special forces raided a Pakistani compound in May to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — to ensure they are on the same page.
“On one side of the ledger are a lot of actions that we really disapprove of and find inimical to our values and even our interests,” Clinton said.
“Then on the other side of the ledger there are actions that are very much in line with what we are seeking and want. So we’re constantly balancing and weighing that.”
The United States has spent about $20 billion on aid to Pakistan since 2001, more than half of it as military assistance.
Clinton’s testimony came one day after U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled plans to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan more quickly than expected, in a first step toward ending the long, costly war and returning America’s focus toward its own troubled economy.
Clinton stressed that Pakistan’s assistance would be vital to achieving this goal, and cited “positive steps” in recent weeks including continued counterterrorism cooperation and the killing or capture of several important extremists.
But Democratic and Republican senators expressed deep concerns over the trajectory of U.S.-Pakistan relations, noting low Pakistani public approval ratings of the United States and ongoing suspicions that elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services may have ties to violent Islamist groups.
“It’s fair to say that every member of the Senate is asking questions about this relationship, and the appropriations people are particularly troubled as they try to figure out, you know, what’s real here,” said John Kerry, the committee’s Democratic chair.
Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, quizzed Clinton on the U.S. government assessment that no senior Pakistani leader knew bin Laden had been hiding in Pakistan just 30 miles north of the capital, Islamabad.
“Now, that may be true, but I don’t think there’s an American who believes that,” Menendez said, noting that Pakistan is the third largest recipient of U.S. security assistance.
Clinton stressed that Washington had no intelligence to indicate that top leaders were aware of bin Laden’s whereabouts, although she said it was still possible that more junior officials were in the loop.
“Was it one of these kind of a wink-and-a-nod (situations)? Maybe so. But in looking at every scrap of information we have, we think that the highest levels of the government were genuinely surprised,” Clinton said, adding that this made it only more important to buttress pro-U.S. elements in the Pakistani leadership.
Editing by Paul Simao