Senate Republicans and Democrats pressed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday to justify U.S. relations with an increasingly unpredictable Pakistan, a day after President Obama announced his troop-drawdown strategy for neighboring Afghanistan.
Mrs. Clinton defended the president’s regional strategy and the nation’s diplomatic relationship with Pakistan, which she described as a sometimes “very outraging experience,” in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senators pushed Mrs. Clinton to explain why Pakistan receives the third-largest amount of U.S. security aid in the world, despite its record of compromising ties to regional terrorists. In May, U.S. Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in Pakistan.
Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, questioned Pakistan’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan.
“We’re understanding that many of the leaders of Pakistan really don’t want to see a stabilized Afghanistan. And so [their] interest, while we’ve given them billions and billions of dollars of aid, is different from ours,” Mr. Corker said. “Pakistan would just as soon we leave Afghanistan immediately.”
Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and committee chairman, said that the U.S. government spends $2.9 billion a year in aid to Pakistan, a country where polls find the U.S.’s approval ratings at 12 percent, equal to those of the Taliban and al Qaeda.
“It has a much more combustible brew of terrorist extremist groups than Afghanistan and its territory is being used today to plot attacks against neighbors, as well as against America and Europe,” Mr. Kerry said.
Mrs. Clinton said the State Department takes a pragmatic approach to Pakistan.
“We’re going to demand more from them,” Mrs. Clinton said. “But we are not going to expect any miracles overnight.”
Sen. Richard G. Lugar, of Indiana, the senior Republican on the committee, said the United States cannot afford to lose its partnership with Pakistan.
“Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups maintain a strong presence, and there is no question that the threat of these groups combined with worries about state collapse, a Pakistani war with India, the safety of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, and Pakistan’s intersection with other states in the region make it a strategically vital country, worth the cost of engagement,” Mr. Lugar said.
Senators also challenged Mrs. Clinton on the president’s Afghan drawdown plan, given the $12-billion-a-month price tag of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan.
Mrs. Clinton said that with troop decreases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Department could save billions of dollars over the next 18 to 24 months.
She declined to comment on whether U.S. generals in Afghanistan supported the plan.
“It would be totally understandable that a military commander would want as many troops for as long as he could get them,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton noted that by September 2012, the president’s drawdown plan would still leave twice the number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan than before Mr. Obama took office in January 2009.
In a separate hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, also on Thursday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he supported the president’s decision to withdraw the troops.
“More force for more time is, without doubt, the safer course,” Adm. Mike Mullen testified. “But that does not necessarily make it the best course.”