WASHINGTON – The United States should examine setting conditions for aid to Pakistan but not cutting it off, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Wednesday, as he disclosed that Islamabad’s closure of supply routes to the Afghan war cost American taxpayers millions of dollars a month.
Panetta said that Pakistan’s closure of NATO supply routes is costing the US $100 million a month as goods trucks have to cover longer distance through Central Asia. “The result of that is that it’s very expensive because we’re using the northern transit route in order to withdraw our forces and also be able to supply our forces,” Panetta told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defence.
Panetta also said that the United States should examine setting conditions for aid to Pakistan but not cutting it off.
Asked during a Senate budget hearing whether he would recommend halting aid to Pakistan, Panetta said: “I’d be very careful about just shutting it down.”
“What I would do is look at conditions for what we expect them to do,” Panetta said, without elaborating. He agreed to help write a letter to Congress with his recommendations for how to proceed with aid for the Pakistani military and government.
The comments came less than a week after Panetta, on a trip to Kabul, said the United States was reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan because of the safe havens the country offered to insurgents fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The American war effort there has become more costly, Panetta said on Wednesday, because of Pakistan’s decision last November to ban trucks from carrying supplies to NATO forces in landlocked Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has previously estimated that it cost between two and three times more to send supplies through the so-called Northern Distribution Network, but declined to offer a dollar figure on the costs. One of the sticking points in the negotiations has been Pakistani demands that the United States apologise for the November strike, something the Pentagon has been unwilling to do.
But Panetta acknowledged at the hearing that the apology wasn’t the only issue. “They’re asking not only for that, but there are other elements to the negotiation that are also involved that have to be resolved,” Panetta said.