How do you react when you suspect a friend has been aiding your worst enemy? If you’re Rep. Ted Poe, you demand they prove their loyalty. “Pakistan has a lot of explaining to do. It seems unimaginable that Osama bin Laden was living 1,000 yards away from a military base in a million-dollar mansion built especially for him and no one in the Pakistani government knew about it,” said the Republican Congressman from Texas. On Tuesday, Poe introduced legislation that would freeze foreign aid to Pakistan until the U.S. State Department can assure Congress that rogue factions in the Pakistani government hadn’t harbored the al-Qaeda chief.
Both Republicans and Democrats have been publicly grappling with whether to reassess U.S. policy toward Pakistan in light of the fact that bin Laden has been luxuriating for up to six years in a garrison town peppered with Pakistani military officials. Both sides are split on how handle our nuclear-armed ally. “You cannot trust them and you cannot abandon them,” Lindsey Graham said, aptly distilling the Catch-22.
Several Republicans in addition to Poe have urged for the U.S. to scale back assistance to Pakistan, which has totaled some $20 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. “I think it is quite clear that unless we get a clear explanation of what the government of Pakistan knew about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, all foreign aid from American taxpayers to this nation needs to cease,” Republican Congressman Allen West said.
Party bosses aren’t so sure. “This is not a time to back away from Pakistan,” House Speaker John Boehner said. “We need more engagement, not less.” Other top Republicans, including Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl, have warned against a “knee-jerk” reaction.
Democrats have splintered as well. “Before we send another dime, we need to know whether Pakistan truly stands with us in the fight against terrorism,” said Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. The push to freeze aid has pinned the White House in the uncomfortable position of defending an ally whose allegiances were questionable enough that the U.S kept it in the dark prior to Operation Geronimo, lest someone alert bin Laden to the strike. “I think it’s a question of the interests that we share and the cooperation that we’ve forged,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “It’s a complicated relationship. There’s no question.”
The relationship is fraught on both sides. Pakistan is none too thrilled about a U.S. military incursion on its sovereign territory, and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs vented that frustration in a statement defending its contributions to the war on terrorism. “Pakistan, being mindful of its international obligations, has been extending full and proper cooperation on all counterterrorism efforts, including exchange of information and intelligence. Pursuant to such cooperation, Pakistan had arrested several high profile terrorists,” ministry officials wrote. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed this point in a Monday briefing, declaring that “cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound in which we was hiding.”
Sunday’s raid sharpened suspicions that a key ally has been playing a double game, but those suspicions have been simmering for a long time. It hasn’t changed the fact that a working relationship remains a necessity for the U.S. As Congress tries to tighten its purse-strings, slashing billions in foreign aid to a frenemy might seem like a logical move. But judging by the reaction of party leaders, it’s unlikely to happen.