- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Several lawmakers said Tuesday that it is time to rethink U.S. aid to Pakistan in light of revelations that Osama bin Laden spent the past six years squirreled away in a safe house a mere football field away from one of country’s top military academies and miles from the capital of Islamabad.

In a letter to Rep. Kay Granger, chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee on state, foreign operations, Rep. Allen West said lawmakers should freeze aid to Pakistan until the country answers questions about whether they aided and abetted the United States’ most-wanted terrorist.

“Unless we get a clear explanation of what the government of Pakistan knew about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, all foreign aid … to this nation needs to cease,” the freshman Florida Republican said. “We need to understand whether the government of Pakistan was harboring Osama bin Laden for all these years. … Did the government of Pakistan always know where this terrorist was but instead did not bring him to justice in order to continue to receive foreign aid.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, also suggested that aid to Pakistan “could be changed.”

“That’s for sure,” the California Democrat told reporters, adding that the decision will hinge on “what we find out about the Pakistani government’s knowledge of this.”

But House Speaker John A. Boehner pushed back, telling reporters that now is the time to strengthen the U.S.-Pakistan relationship because it is a key element for uprooting the terrorist networks living there and targeting the United States.

“We both benefit from having a strong bilateral relationship,” Mr. Boehner said, according to the National Journal. “This is not a time to back away from Pakistan. We need more engagement, not less.”

Less than 48 hours after bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs, the death of the Sept. 11 mastermind remained all the buzz on Capitol Hill, where the Senate passed a resolution praising the efforts of those involved in the risky U.S. military mission.

Underscoring the importance they attached to the vote, senators broke with the chaotic nature of daily votes by sitting in their seats and then standing one by one to voice support for the resolution. “Nine-and-a-half years after the worst morning in our memory, we woke up yesterday morning to a world without Osama bin Laden and with a palpable sense of justice,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said prior to the 97-0 vote.

Both chambers, meanwhile, held hearings on related matters, and members received briefings from administration officials as they tried to get a better understanding of how much the Pakistani government, military and intelligence agencies knew about bin Laden’s whereabouts.

“If they didn’t know, why didn’t they know?” Mrs. Feinstein said. “Why didn’t they pay more attention to it? Was this just benign indifference, or was it indifference with a motive? I don’t know what the answer is, and we need to find that out.”

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican who is the party’s ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, first floated the idea of curbing Pakistan’s funding at a news conference Monday, saying that it seems the nation is playing a “double game” and that attaching strings to U.S. aid packages could put additional pressure on Pakistan to help uproot terrorists living in the country.

In 2010, the country received almost $1.5 billion from the United States, including $243 million in military aid and $1.2 billion in civilian assistance, according to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. President Obama’s 2012 spending request includes $1.6 billion in security-related assistance and nearly $1.4 billion in economic-related assistance.

But with the United States struggling to deal with its own $14.3 trillion national debt, Rep. Patrick Meehan, chairman of a Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, told reporters Tuesday that the aid could be a tough sell to the American public because of the “elephant in the room” - whether Pakistan is worthy of the nation’s trust.

“There will be a need for continuing dialogue with the Pakistanis to give the American people some sense of comfort that there is a shared commitment,” the Pennsylvania Republican said, adding that that likely will determine how Congress handles the aid packages.

Others took a tougher stance.

Rep. Ted Poe echoed Mr. West’s call for Congress to freeze Pakistan aid, saying the spigot should be turned off until the State Department certifies to Congress that Pakistan was not providing a sanctuary for the world’s most-wanted terrorist.

Pakistan has a lot of explaining to do,” the Texas Republican said. “It seems unimaginable that Osama bin Laden was living 1,000 yards away from a military base in a million-dollar mansion built especially for him and no one in the Pakistani government knew about it. I don’t buy it.”

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