Washington, May 15: Two weeks after Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, the US government is divided over the future of its ties with Pakistan, with some officials advocating “strong reprisals” if Islamabad refuses to cooperate in the war on terror, a media report said today.
“You can't continue business as usual,” the Washington Post reported quoting one of several senior administration officials, who discussed the sensitive issue. “You have to somehow convey to the Pakistanis that they've arrived at a big choice.”
“People who were prepared to listen to (Pakistan's) story for a long time are no longer prepared to listen,” the official said.
The discovery of the al-Qaeda chief in Abbottabad, close to Islamabad, has pushed many in the Obama administration beyond any willingness to tolerate Pakistan's ambiguous connections with extremist groups, the Post said.US commandos had killed bin Laden in a unilateral raid on his Abbottabad hideout on May 2.
After years of ineffective American warnings to Pakistan, many US officials are concluding that a change in policy is long overdue, the report quoted officials as saying.
Those warnings are detailed in a series of contemporaneous written accounts, obtained by The Post, chronicling three years of often-contentious meetings involving top officials of both countries.
Confirmed by the US and Pakistani participants, the exchanges portray a circular debate in which the United States repeatedly said it had irrefutable proof of ties between Pakistani military and intelligence officials and the Afghan-Taliban and other insurgents, and warned that Pakistani refusal to act against them would exact a cost.
However, US officials have said they have no evidence that top Pakistani military or civilian leaders were aware of bin Laden's location or authorised any official support, but his residence within shouting distance of Pakistani military installations has brought relations to a crisis point, the report said.
“Some officials, particularly in the White House, have advocated strong reprisals, especially if Pakistan continues to refuse access to materials left behind by US commandos who scooped up all the paper and computer drives they could carry during their deadly 40-minute raid on bin Laden's compound.”
But few officials are eager to contemplate the alternatives if Pakistan makes the wrong choice. No one inside the administration, they said, “wants to make a fast, wrong decision.”
“Every available option - from limiting US aid and official contacts, to unleashing more unilateral ground attacks against terrorist targets - jeopardises existing Pakistani help, however undependable, in keeping US enemies at bay. Military success and an eventual negotiated settlement of the Afghanistan war are seen as virtually impossible without some level of Pakistani buy-in,” The Post noted.
For now, the administration is in limbo, awaiting Pakistan's response to immediate questions about bin Laden and hoping it will engage in a more solid counter-terrorism partnership in the future, the paper said.
Telephone calls last weekend to Pakistan's army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani by White House National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were said to be inconclusive at best, it said.
The report also said that no decision has been made on whether Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will make a previously scheduled trip to Pakistan later this month. PTI