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Sen. Kerry tells Pakistan of 'grave concerns'

U.S. Senator John Kerry told Pakistani officials Washington had "grave" concerns over Osama bin Laden's presence in Pakistan before the al-Qaida leader was killed in a U.S. raid.
/ Source: news services

U.S. Senator John Kerry told Pakistani officials in Washington had "grave" concerns over Osama bin Laden's presence in Pakistan before the al-Qaida leader was killed in a U.S. raid, the lawmaker said during a visit to strategic ally Pakistan on Monday.

"I expressed as clearly as possible grave concerns in the United States over Osama bin Laden's presence in Pakistan and existence here of sanctuaries for adversaries in Afghanistan," Kerry told a news conference.

Kerry said that some members of Congress were not confident that bilateral relations can be fixed after it was discovered that Osama bid Laden has spent years in the country.

"The make or break is real. There are members of Congress who are not confident it (ties) can be patched back together," he said.

Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have been badly strained since the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2.

U.S. officials have said they didn't tell Pakistan about the operation before it happened, because they were worried bin Laden might be tipped off. Pakistan says the raid violated its sovereignty.

Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the first American emissary to visit Pakistan since the raid that killed bin Laden. Known to be a friend of Pakistan, what he is told by Pakistani army and civilian leaders could be key to American policy going forward.

According to a joint statement, the U.S. and Pakistan have agreed to work together in any future actions against "high value targets" in Pakistan.

Kerry said he and Pakistani leaders have agreed on a "series of steps" to improve their nations' fraying ties.

The senator did not specify what those steps are but he says they will "be implemented immediately in order to get this relationship back on track."

Kerry was in Pakistan amid high tensions over the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden in the South Asian country's northwest.

Kerry insists the secrecy surrounding the May 2 raid on bin Laden was crucial to assuring its success, and that he himself did not learn of it until afterward.

Compounding Pakistan's reputation as an unstable Muslim country infested with militants, gunmen on motorcycles shot dead a Saudi diplomat in the city of Karachi as he was driving to work. Al-Qaida-linked Pakistani Taliban militants, who have vowed to strike back for the killing of Saudi-born bin Laden, claimed responsibility.

Also Monday, Pakistan intelligence officials said two American missile attacks close to the border with Afghanistan killed seven suspected militants.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials said missiles hit a house and a vehicle near Mir Ali in North Waziristan district. They spoke on anonymity because they were not authorized to give their names to reporters.

Militants in hiding
The U.S. has long pressed Pakistan to take action against several powerful Afghan Taliban factions sheltering on its soil. The leader of the Afghan insurgency, Mullah Omar, is widely believed to be in the southwest Pakistani province of Baluchistan, and allegations he is being harbored by the country have been strengthened since the death of bin Laden.

Bin Laden is believed to have lived in a large compound in Abbottabad for years, not far from Pakistan's premier military academy. Pakistani civilian and military leaders deny knowing where bin Laden was and have called the U.S. raid a violation of their country's sovereignty.

Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told Kerry his soldiers have "intense feelings" about the raid, in apparent reference to anger and humiliation over the fact that Washington did not tell the army in advance about the helicopter-borne raid, and that it was unable to stop the incursion.

On Monday, Kerry met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and was slated to see President Asif Ali Zardari.

Zardari's office, meanwhile, said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called him Sunday to discuss the raid's fallout in Pakistan. Clinton has spoken of the need to keep strong ties with Pakistan, and stressed there's no evidence yet its leaders knew of bin Laden's whereabouts.

Kerry said Monday that Clinton will soon announce plans to visit Pakistan.

While in Afghanistan on Sunday, Kerry made it clear to reporters that patience was running thin in Washington, where many have long suspected that Pakistan aids and abets Afghan Taliban and other militant groups. Many in Congress are saying that Washington should cut aid to the country.

"The important thing is to understand that major, significant events have taken place in last days that have a profound impact on what we have called the war on terror, a profound impact on our relationship as a result," Kerry said.

He added that "we need to find a way to march forward if it is possible. If it is not possible, there are a set of downside consequences that can be profound." He did not elaborate.

High stakes
In a parliamentary resolution Saturday, Pakistani lawmakers did not mention the fact that bin Laden was living in the army town or the suspicions of collusion, but instead warned of the consequences if any more American incursions were take place in the future.

They also threatened to stop NATO and U.S. trucks from using its land routes to ferry supplies across the border to troops in Afghanistan unless Washington does not stop missile attacks on its territory.

Much is at stake. The United States needs Pakistan's cooperation if it hopes to find a solution to the Afghan war and help a reconciliation process that hopes to fashion a nonmilitary solution to the Taliban insurgency. It also needs Pakistan's military help against insurgents using its lawless tribal areas to stage attacks against American, coalition and Afghan forces.

It also needs to ensure that nuclear-armed Pakistan does not succumb to rising Islamic extremism and its own tenacious insurgency, which has cost the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians.

Pakistan's failing economy desperately needs American and other foreign aid. Since 2002, Pakistan has received more than $20 billion from the U.S., making the country one of the largest U.S. aid recipients, according to the Congressional Research Service. Nearly $9 billion of that has been reimbursements for Pakistan's costs to support the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

In a sign of how politically hot the raid has become, the government of Punjab, Pakistan's wealthiest and most populous province, announced Monday that it wants to stop taking foreign aid.

Punjab is run by a party that is in the opposition on the federal level, and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said the decision by his Cabinet still needs approval by the party.

It's also unclear how much foreign aid goes directly into Punjab's government coffers — much of it is funneled through aid organizations or the federal government. So the announcement could be largely political theatrics.

It is time for Pakistanis to "insist on dignified and honorable relations with the superpowers and refuse to compromise our national interests, freedom, and sovereignty," Sharif said in announcing the move.