Sen. Kerry Plans Trip to Pakistan to Get Relations ‘On the Right Track’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 11, 2011 | 5:22 AM EDT

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), co-sponsored the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

( – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry, co-sponsor of a massive aid package to Pakistan, will travel to Islamabad in the coming days in a bid to get ties back “on the right track” after the Osama bin Laden killing.

“A number of people suggested it would be good to get a dialogue going about the aftermath, and how we get on the right track,” the Massachusetts Democrat told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.

“There are some serious questions, obviously. There are some serious issues that we’ve just got to find a way to resolve together.”

Since the May 2 U.S. raid that lead to the death of bin Laden in a compound north of the Pakistani capital, President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has walked a fine line between allaying U.S. concerns about the fugitive terrorist’s location and placating domestic outrage over the fact U.S. forces operated on Pakistani territory.

The incident has brought to the forefront years of suspicion that Pakistan’s military, and especially the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, has been colluding with terrorist groups, including some linked to al-Qaeda.

“We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan,” President Obama told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” in an interview aired Sunday.

“But we don't know who or what that support network was,” he said. “We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that’s something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.”

Kerry said Tuesday he expected to meet with “all the main players” in Pakistan and planned to bring up “all the relevant issues that are on the table – and there are a lot of them.”

Kerry and Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.) in 2009 co-sponsored legislation to provide Pakistan with $7.5 billion in non-military assistance – $1.5 billion a year for fiscal years 2010 through 2014 -- conditioned on its cooperation in the fight against terrorists.

During a Foreign Relations Committee hearing last Thursday, Kerry and Lugar both defended continued funding for Pakistan, despite questions about the bin Laden affair.

“Distancing ourselves from Pakistan would be unwise and extremely dangerous,” warned Lugar.

The Kerry-Lugar legislation, he said, “attempts to expand U.S.-Pakistani ties beyond military matters and signals our country’s willingness to engage with Pakistan over the long term.”

“No matter what we learn about the events that preceded the killing of Osama bin Laden,” Kerry said during the hearing, “we still have vital national security interests in this region, and we have worked hard to build a partnership with Pakistan, fragile and difficult and challenged as it may be at times.”

“Going forward, we have to act thoughtfully and, no matter what, we have to remember the big picture, the larger strategic interest, and the full nature of this relationship with Pakistan,” he continued. “We should not rush into a situation that hurts our interests.”

Kerry’s stance has not gone unnoticed in Pakistan.

“It is important to have such a powerful voice as Senator Kerry’s batting for Pakistan at a moment when angry members of Congress are asking for either a cut-off of all aid to Pakistan or at the very least a painstaking review of that aid and how it is utilized,” the Daily Times of Lahore said in an editorial Wednesday.

U.S. expectations of Pakistan

Among other things, the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, also known as the “Kerry-Lugar bill,” requires Islamabad to show measurable progress in fighting terrorism and militancy.

Under provisions that sparked controversy in Pakistan, the administration must regularly certify to Congress that Pakistan’s government “has demonstrated a sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups.”

Among other things, this should take into account progress in areas including “ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighboring countries.”

A semi-annual report to Congress, intended for lawmakers to assess how effectively the U.S. funds are being spent, should provide an evaluation of Pakistan’s efforts to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist and terrorist groups in the FATA [Federally-Administered Tribal Areas] and settled areas,” “eliminate the safe havens of such forces in Pakistan” and “cease all support for extremist and terrorist groups.”

U.S. Rep. Carl Berman, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a co-sponsor of the 2009 legislation, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, drawing attention to the requirements relating to Pakistan’s actions against militancy.

Reports of ongoing support by certain elements in Pakistan to militant groups “fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan,” he wrote, raised serious questions about the administration’s certification about Pakistan’s progress in combating terrorist groups.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow