U.S. Assistance to Pakistan Should Continue, Gates Says

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2011 — U.S.financial assis­tance to Pak­istan should con­tin­ue, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.
“I think we have to pro­ceed with some cau­tion. We do have sig­nif­i­cant inter­ests in Pak­istan,” Gates told reporters dur­ing a brief­ing that he and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held today at the Pen­ta­gon. “I think my own view would be [that] … we need to con­tin­ue the assis­tance that we have pro­vid­ed that ben­e­fits the Pak­istani peo­ple.”

The debate of halt­ing fund­ing to Pak­istan began after the May 1 death there of al-Qai­da leader Osama bin Laden at the hands of Amer­i­can forces inside his com­pound in Abbot­tabad, where he is believed to have hid­den for six years. 

“I have seen no evi­dence at all that the senior lead­er­ship knew [about bin Laden’s pres­ence in the coun­try],” Gates said. “In fact, I’ve seen some evi­dence to the con­trary. But … we have no evi­dence yet with respect to any­body else. My sup­po­si­tion is — some­body knew.” 

“We don’t know whether it was, you know, … retired peo­ple, whether it was low-lev­el. You have pure sup­po­si­tion on our part. It’s hard to go to them with an accu­sa­tion when we have no proof that any­body knew,” he said. 

Over the past cou­ple of weeks, the sec­re­tary said the Pak­ista­nis “have expressed the view that they are will­ing to go after [ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions’ lead­er­ship] and that we should not repeat the bin Laden oper­a­tion because … they will under­take this themselves.” 

Gates said the Unit­ed States “ought to take them up on that” and that it gives the Pak­ista­nis a chance to address the skep­ti­cism aris­ing in the Unit­ed States over con­tin­u­ing assis­tance to that nation. 

“I think we do need to be cog­nizant of the con­cerns on the Hill,” the sec­re­tary said. “And frankly, I think the Pak­ista­nis need to be as well. But, that said, we do have inter­ests in com­mon and we do need to try and move forward.” 

Mullen added that, despite chal­lenges in the region, the U.S. rela­tion­ship with Pak­istan is crit­i­cal. “It would be a sig­nif­i­cant­ly neg­a­tive out­come if the rela­tion­ship got bro­ken,” he said, not­ing that over the years the U.S. mil­i­tary has made a large invest­ment in Pak­istan. “That invest­ment brought us to this posi­tion, which I think we need to lever­age to sus­tain the rela­tion­ship — not just at my lev­el, or with the mil­i­tary, but, quite frankly, between the two coun­tries,” he said. 

Mullen said the Pak­ista­nis want to go after ter­ror­ist groups tak­ing safe haven in their coun­try. “I think they cer­tain­ly under­stand the impor­tance of it,” he added. 

We all need to make sure, the chair­man said, “that they under­stand very clear­ly that this pri­or­i­ty isn’t going to go away and that the safe havens for these lead­ers have to be elim­i­nat­ed.” Mullen said his dis­cus­sions with Gen. Ash­faq Parvez Kayani, chief of staff of the Pak­istan Army since the raid on bin Laden’s com­pound reaf­firms the desire to con­tin­ue a pos­i­tive relationship. 

But, Mullen said, the raid and its sub­se­quent neg­a­tive reflec­tion on Pak­istan gen­er­at­ed inter­nal soul search­ing with­in the Pak­istan mil­i­tary and that it was a hum­bling expe­ri­ence for the proud organization. 

“We need to give them some time and space to work on some of the inter­nal chal­lenges that came out of this,” he said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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