WASHINGTON: The Obama administration has sent a letter to Congress, assuring the lawmakers that senior military and civilian leaders in Pakistan were not aware of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.
The letter, signed by US special envoy Mark Grossman, aims at curbing rapidly growing anti-Pakistan feelings in Congress where lawmakers from both Republican and Democratic parties are demanding new restrictions on aid to Islamabad.
Ten US senators had sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to explain why the United States should continue to provide civil and military aid to Pakistan after the May 2 raid on Bin Laden’s compound.
In the letter to the lawmakers sent on Thursday, Ambassador Grossman says: “We see no evidence to indicate that anyone at the highest levels of the government of Pakistan knew that Bin Laden was living in Pakistan.”
“Now, that may be true, but I don’t think there’s an American who believes that,” said Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, while commenting on Mr Grossman’s response. And he was assured by a person no less than the secretary of state that her envoy was right. At a congressional hearing on Thursday evening, she told Senator Menendez: “We have looked very hard and scrubbed all of the intelligence that we have. And … the conclusion Ambassador Grossman gave you in the letter is the one we have reached.”
But then she also raised the doubts that are often expressed across America: “We do not in any way rule out or absolve those who are at lower levels, who may very well have been enablers and protectors. Now, the fair question is, were they protecting their higher-ups? Could be. Was it one of these kinds of a wink and a nod? Maybe so.”
Realising that her statement could have raised more doubts than it answered, Secretary Clinton hastened to add: “But in looking at every scrap of information we have, we think that the highest levels of the government were genuinely surprised.”
If senior Pakistani leaders had reasons to believe that Bin Laden was hiding in their country, they thought he was in the tribal areas, protected by the Taliban or by the Haqqani network, she said. “But they did not know and we have no reason to believe that they are running some massive deception on us to that point.” Secretary Clinton then explained why the US wanted to continue to engage Pakistan despite the problems it was having in maintaining this relationship. “It is our conclusion that we have to continue to try to pull and push to get it more right than wrong,” she said.
“So, for example, 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 certain steps taken,” she added.
“We’re trying to play this orchestra the best we can, where we look in one direction and say to those who we think are largely responsible for the difficulties we know that exist within Pakistan, you can’t continue doing that. “But, on the other hand, we have a democratically elected government which has made some courageous decisions despite the challenges.”
Secretary Clinton said that during her last visit to Islamabad, she had a “very emotional meeting” with President Asif Ali Zardari who said to her: “Look — Al Qaeda was in league with the people who killed my wife! I would never have turned a blind eye if I had known anything.”