“I think it’s helpful for us to understand and develop policies based on reality, rather than walking on eggs trying to get some corrupt, repressive regime in Pakistan mad at us.” said Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who advocates Baloch self-determination.
On the last leg of a three-nation tour of Asia, Panetta said: “We are fighting a war in the Fata. We are fighting a war against terrorism.” Panetta was apparently referring to a US campaign of drone strikes against Pakistan-based militants. The drone strikes — as well as the Osama bin Laden raid — have been one source of the rising tensions between the US and Pakistan, as Islamabad has expressed anger that its sovereignty is being violated. The US has pressing Pakistan to do more to stop the Haqqani network from launching attacks in Afghanistan.
“I think it’s part of the theatre of war,” Senator Lindsey Graham, also a Republican, said of the Fata. “It’s a place where the enemy seeks sanctuary.”
Sen John McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, for his part didn’t go as far but called the situation “unacceptable.”
“The realism of the situation is that there are the elements of the Pakistani military, specifically the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], that are supporting the Haqqani network that is killing Americans,” he alleged. “Whether you call that being at war or not, that’s up to you. I don’t view it as being at war, but I certainly view it as a situation which is not acceptable.”
The US lawmakers have already voted to slash the White House-proposed aid budget for Pakistan by more than two-thirds, and have placed harsh restrictions on the rest. Senate appropriators last week slashed funding by a symbolic extra $33 million in retaliation for a lengthy prison sentence against a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA track down bin Laden.
The US-Pakistan relations boiled over last November when 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by Nato troops on the Afghan-Pakistan border, which Pakistan responded by shutting down Nato supply lines to Afghanistan. Negotiations are ongoing to reopen them but have so far been unsuccessful. Rohrabacher, who has been among the most vocal Pakistan critics in Congress, said it would be more accurate to say the US is at war with, not in, Pakistan, based on what he said was evidence of continued support for radicals who target American troops. He added that instead of further burdening a US public already weary from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the acknowledgment of a third war would in fact make it easier for the US to extricate itself from the area.
“We are now engaged in mission impossible in Afghanistan,” he said. “As long as we don’t recognise the Pakistanis as actually being engaged in that war against us, we cannot successfully terminate that conflict.”
Instead, he said, “we should continue hitting the leadership of the terrorist networks until the minute that we get out of Afghanistan and Pakistan and then wave to them goodbye”.
Others played down Panetta’s comments. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said that the remarks were merely stating that the US is at war with the Haqqani network.
“They’re at war with us and that makes us at war with them,” Levin said. “That doesn’t make us at war with Pakistan — it makes us at war with a group that’s at war with us.”