The senior Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday that they believe Pakistani officials knew al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was hiding in a compound 35 miles from the capital of Islamabad, even as President Barack Obama’s national security adviser insisted there is no intelligence to prove that.
“I find it very hard to believe that people didn’t know,” Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It is extraordinarily hard to believe that he could have survived here for five years or more in a major population center without some kind of support system.”
Ranking member Dick Lugar agreed.
“It appears to me very logical that if Osama bin Laden was in that home for six years of time, a group of people there connected with the military, a lot of people in Pakistan knew about his whereabouts,” the Indiana Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The problem is that the divisions in the Pakistani government — between the [Inter-Services Intelligence agency], the intelligence people, the military, the civilian — are very, very severe.”
But National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who appeared on several of the political news shows Sunday morning, said he had seen no intelligence to back up the Senators’ conviction.
“It is important, by the way, for the Pakistanis to investigate what happened here,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We don’t have evidence at this point that the political, military and intelligence leadership of Pakistan knew about the bin Laden operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But that issue is front and center in Pakistan right now. It does need to be investigated.”
Donilon insisted that Pakistan is, and will always be, a crucial partner in the fight against terrorism.
“You need to look at this relationship in its totality and in terms of our strategic interest,” he said on Fox. “As the national security adviser, it’s my job to pursue our interests. And we have had our problems with Pakistan, but we have also had a tremendous amount of partnership and cooperation with them in the effort against terrorism, including against al-Qaida.”
But since U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden on May 1, Democrats and moderate Republicans on Capitol Hill have questioned Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) have been among the Members who have suggested that the United States should reconsider funding for Pakistan’s security operations. As recently as February, Obama requested more than $3 billion for Pakistan in his 2012 budget plan.
Lugar said that he did not expect the United States to suspend financial support to Pakistan and that doing so would be a serious diplomatic mistake.
“I don’t see us cutting off money,” he said. “As a matter of fact, Pakistan is a crucial factor in the war against terror, our war and the world’s war against it.”
Kerry, who plans to travel to Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan this month to meet with Afghan and American officials on the ground, noted that Pakistan has cooperated with the United States in its mission against al-Qaida.
“Everybody has to understand that even in the getting of Osama bin Laden, the Pakistanis were helpful,” he said, adding that the country has taken political risks to cooperate with the U.S. drone strikes that killed 16 of the top al-Qaida leaders. “I see opportunity in all of this to punch a reset button and frankly serve our interests and theirs much more effectively.”
Kerry plans to hold a series of committee hearings starting this week about the war in Afghanistan, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and related topics.
Kerry also addressed questions Sunday about whether the SEALs were justified in killing bin Laden and the inconsistencies in the administration’s narrative of the events in last week’s mission.
“We need to shut up and move on about the realities of what happened in that building,” he said.