CIA Director Leon Panetta leaves the Capitol on Wednesday after briefing some lawmakers on intelligence matters. Pakistans intelligence operation has come under increased scrutiny after the death of Osama bin Laden, who had been living in the country.
Democrats and Republicans alike Wednesday warned against knee-jerk calls for an end to aid to Pakistan, reminding angry colleagues that the troubled government remains an essential partner in the war on terrorism.
Since it was announced Sunday evening that U.S. special operations forces had killed Osama bin Laden in a suburb of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, the public outcry against the country has grown. Lawmakers have already scheduled hearings into whether government officials — many of whom lived within miles of bin Laden for the past five years — knew the wanted terrorist was living there, and members of both parties have demanded an end to the more than $1 billion in aid Pakistan receives yearly.
But on Wednesday, several key lawmakers in both parties warned that it is too soon to retaliate.
“There’s suspicions that some of the people in the government knew he was there,” Congressional Pakistan Caucus Co-Chairman Dan Burton said. “Some probably did.”
Nevertheless, the Indiana Republican doesn’t favor swift reprisal.
“I really believe we’ve got to take a breath, take a look at the United States’ interests in the long term [and] take a look at the big picture,” he said. “And I just don’t think we can make that decision yet.”
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon said, “I think people who have been married 30 years still have some problems, but they don’t get divorced.”
The California Republican, who met with Pakistan’s defense minister Wednesday, said it’s important that what is said in private between two countries remain private, but he said that publicly it is important to work things out.
“People need to keep their eyes on the ultimate goal to defeat the Taliban and the war on terrorism,” McKeon said.
Democrats also warned against rash reactions.
“People either knew, were working with bin Laden, or they were extremely incompetent,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger said. “I hope they were incompetent.”
Ruppersberger, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, argued that “just like we needed Turkey to go into Iraq,” Pakistan remains the primary supply route for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Any move the U.S. makes to cut funding to Pakistan could put that strategic asset in jeopardy.
On a more political level, the Maryland Democrat also argued the current crisis in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship could prove to be an opportunity “to reset our relationship with Pakistan, which has been deteriorating for several months now.”
U.S. officials should use the situation to bluntly warn Pakistani officials that “we give you money. We helped you with your floods. There comes a time when you need to do more, to step up.”
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