|John Kerry gives a press conference at the US embassy in Kabul
© AFP Shah Marai
ISLAMABAD (AFP) – US Senator John Kerry arrived in Islamabad on Sunday for talks with Pakistani leaders at what he earlier warned was a “critical moment” for relations after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
He landed two days after Pakistan’s parliament insisted there must be no repeat of the secret commando operation that killed bin Laden and said US drone strikes targeting extremists on its territory must end.
The first senior US visitor since the Al-Qaeda kingpin’s death, Kerry was to meet President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, foreign office spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua told AFP, to discuss “bilateral relations and regional issues”.
In the Afghan capital Kabul before travelling to Pakistan, Kerry told reporters Sunday that US relations with its nuclear-armed ally were at a “critical moment”.
He said he was he was ready to listen to Pakistan’s leaders but the discovery of the Al-Qaeda chief living close to Islamabad meant talks had to “resolve some very serious issues”.
The raid has rocked Pakistan’s security establishment, with its government, intelligence services and military widely accused of incompetence or complicity over the presence of bin Laden in a garrison town near the capital.
Pakistan has meanwhile vowed to review intelligence co-operation with the United States following the raid, which its foreign ministry called an “unauthorised unilateral action”.
“We need to find a way to march forward if it is possible. If it is not possible, there are a set of downside consequences that can be profound,” said Kerry, whose trip to the region has been endorsed by President Barack Obama.
Kerry, chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations committee, also repeated Washington’s belief that Pakistani authorities know where Taliban safe havens harbouring the leaders of Afghanistan’s insurgency are located.
“There is some evidence of Pakistan government knowledge of some of these activities in ways that is very disturbing,” he told reporters in Kabul, adding that he would raise the long-standing issue in Islamabad.
But Kerry also sought to dampen the diplomatic fallout from the bin Laden raid, which severely strained ties with the US and stirred renewed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
“It’s important to try also to not allow the passions of a moment to cloud over the larger goal that is in both of our interests,” he said in reference to efforts to combat Islamist militancy.
President Zardari met with Gilani and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani in Islamabad on Sunday before Kerry’s arrival and discussed “the current security situation”, the presidency said in a statement.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned President Asif Zardari on Sunday night and “the two discussed the present situation in the aftermath of the Abbottabad operation,” another official statement said.
“The president apprised her of the concerns expressed by Pakistan’s parliament over the operation. Both agreed to resolve the issues amicably and move forward,” it added.
The country’s intelligence head Ahmad Shuja Pasha offered Saturday to resign over the raid as he briefed lawmakers, parliamentary sources told AFP, but the offer was declined.
Many Pakistanis have been outraged at the perceived impunity of the US raid, while asking whether their military was too incompetent to know bin Laden was living close to a major forces academy, or, worse, conspired to protect him.
Pakistan’s parliament on Saturday called on the government to appoint an independent commission to ensure the US operation on its territory was not repeated.
Lawmakers also threatened to withdraw logistical cooperation for US troops based in Afghanistan and condemned CIA-operated drone strikes.
US missile strikes doubled last year, with more than 100 operations killing over 670 people, according to an AFP tally, and the CIA has said the covert programme has severely disrupted Al-Qaeda’s leadership.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that President Obama’s administration is divided over the future of its relationship with Pakistan following the killing of bin Laden.
A number of lawmakers have accused Pakistan of playing a double game and questioned billions of dollars in US aid after the world’s most wanted man was killed in a safe house a short drive from the country’s top military academy.
Despite the diplomatic storm, the White House said Friday that Pakistan had granted US interrogators access to three of bin Laden’s widows taken into custody from his compound.
© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license