WASHINGTON -- Top lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee defended aid to Pakistan on Sunday despite lingering questions about how much the Pakistani government knew about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts.
In 2009, President Obama signed into law the Enhanced Partnership With Pakistan Act. Also known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, the law authorizes $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Pakistan through 2013.
In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," SFRC Ranking Member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) said he doesn't think the United States will cut off aid to Pakistan.
"No, I don't see that at all," said Lugar. "As a matter of fact, Pakistan is a critical factor in the war against terror, our war, the world's war against it, simply because there are a lot of terrorists in Pakistan. There are al Qaeda still. There are many Taliban. They go back and forth to Afghanistan."
SFRC Chair John Kerry (D-Mass.), speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," didn't advocate for cutting off aid, but he made clear that it was a time of "enormous opportunity" to reevaluate the U.S. relationship with both Pakistan and Afghanistan:
You have to understand that for a period of time our interests in Pakistan have not converged. The Pakistanis have had a different set of interests about India, a different set of interests about what kind of Afghanistan they want to see. They're apprehensive about a 350,000 person army being built up in Afghanistan on their border. They have a different interest on nuclear weapons, for instance, and on nuclear policy. All of that has to change.
All of that, I believe, can change. I've had some early conversations with high level officials of Pakistan. There's an indication to me there is an enormous amount of introspection going on and some very deep evaluating within Pakistan. I know for a fact they are thinking of a government inquiry outside of the military. For the first time there is major criticism in Pakistani papers of the intelligence network and military in Pakistan.
So I see this as a time for us to be careful, to be thoughtful, to proceed deliberately but determinedly in order to lay on the table the things that we know have to change. The relationship with the ISI, the double dealing, the attitude and frankly wastefulness of resources towards India. The question of cooperation with respect to Afghanistan.
I see opportunity in all of this to sort of punch a reset button and frankly serve our interests and theirs much more effectively.
Kerry will be traveling to Afghanistan on Thursday for a three-day visit.
A handful of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for suspending aid to Pakistan. On Monday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said, "Before we send another dime, we need to know whether Pakistan truly stands with us in the fight against terrorism. Until Congress and the American public are assured that the Pakistani government is not shielding terrorists, financial aid to Pakistan should be suspended."
“This tells us once again that unfortunately Pakistan, at times, is playing a double-game, and that’s very troubling to me,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also said last week. “We clearly need to keep the pressure on Pakistan and one way to do that is to put more strings attached to the tremendous amount of military aid we give the country.”
On ABC's "This Week," the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said his government was working on convincing American taxpayers that they should keep sending money to Pakistan.
"Both sides are engaged," said Haqqani, referring to the Pakistani and American governments. "The fact remains that in the future we want to make sure that we continue with joint operations. As far as high-value targets are concerned, the Americans are sharing with us what they think is the way forward. We are giving our opinions."
Haqqani added that "complaining and carping about Pakistan has been around for as long as the Pakistani and U.S. alliance has been around," arguing that the two countries are nevertheless "allies and partners who need each other."
Kerry and Lugar's comments regarding aid to Pakistan are similar to ones they voiced during a SFRC hearing on the country last week. Kerry said that the United States has "worked hard to build a partnership with Pakistan, fragile and difficult and challenged as it may be at times." Lugar added that distancing the United States from Pakistan "would be unwise and extremely dangerous."