WASHINGTON: The Pakistani military cut off its communication with US and Nato forces in Afghanistan for two days after a US raid killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, an American general said on Tuesday.In the US Congress, officials told reporters that Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry might visit Pakistan soon to reduce tensions between Washington and Islamabad.
“For two whole days after the raid, we didn't have very good contact” with the Pakistani military, said Maj-Gen John Campbell, the commander of US troops in eastern Afghanistan.
This forced his soldiers to safeguard some 450 miles of border with Pakistan, a suspected transit point for insurgents, without support from the Pakistani side, the general said. The general's statement, given at a briefing with journalists at the Pentagon, appeared on a day when a string of US lawmakers urged the Obama administration to reconsider its relations with Pakistan.
In the US capital, Senator Kerry is seen as a strong supporter of America's relations with Pakistan who also opposes proposals to suspend about $1.5 billion of annual assistance to Islamabad over the Bin Laden dispute.
Other lawmakers, however, have suggested stopping all military and economic assistance to Pakistan until Islamabad proves that it was not aware of Bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad and will punish those who helped him settle there.
House Speaker John Boehner, who has supported Pakistan after the US raid on Bin Laden's compound, also warned on Tuesday that relations between the two countries now faced a make-or-break moment.
“It's a moment to look each other in the eye.” Mr Boehner told NBC “Today” show that “if we're really going to be allies, if we're going to fight this war together, we need to be in it together all the time”.
He said he still trusted the Pakistani government but conceded that questions lingered over “what they knew or didn't know about Bin Laden being in their country â€“ their willingness to pursue some terrorists but not others”. Mr Boehner said he thought that Pakistan on balance “has been a real asset” in the war on terror.
But Senator Diane Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagreed.
“Either we're going to be allies in fighting terror, or the relationship makes less and less sense to me,” Senator Feinstein told reporters, adding, “...to enable him (Bin Laden) to live in Pakistan in a military community for six years, I just don't believe it was done without some form of complicity”. Asked about the support Pakistan was getting from the Kerry and Lugar assistance act, the senator said, “I understand that. I feel a little differently”. But Senator Kerry and Richard Lugar, who authored the aid bill, want to give Pakistan the benefit of doubt and have urged the Obama administration to continue the $ 1.5 billion annual assistance stipulated in the act.
“Our lack of clarity has caused Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other players to start hedging their bets and planning for the worst rather than the best,” said Senator Kerry while explaining the problems Washington was having with Islamabad.
Some other lawmakers also noted that the US still needed the Pakistan route for supplying its 140,000 troops in Afghanistan.
But at least one Obama administration official indicated that the US had other alternatives too.
“We're confident that we're not dependent upon any particular single thread, and we can continue to supply the Afghanistan effort,” US Under-Secretary of Defence for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ashton Carter told a wire service.