ISLAMABAD - The U.S. and Pakistan agreed Monday to work together in any future actions against "high value targets" in Pakistan, even as U.S. Sen. John Kerry defended Washington's decision not to tell Islamabad in advance about the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The pledge, which was made in a joint statement, could help mollify Pakistani officials and citizens, who were enraged that one of the country's most important allies would conduct a unilateral operation on its soil. But details of the promised cooperation were unclear.
Kerry said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will soon announce plans to visit Pakistan a sign of confidence in the relationship and announced that he and Pakistani leaders have agreed to a "series of steps" to improve relations. But he did not specify what those steps were.
However, a top Clinton aide said the secretary of state's office had "no idea" what Kerry was talking about.
Kerry is the most high-profile American emissary to visit Pakistan since the May 2 raid in the northwest garrison city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, which killed the al Qaeda chief and four others. His comments during the visit mixed defiance with promises to work to rebuild the relationship between the two countries.
"My goal in coming here is not to apologize for what I consider to be a triumph against terrorism of unprecedented consequence," said Kerry. "My goal in coming here has been to talk about how we manage this important relationship."
Kerry, who chairs the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, said he understood why Pakistanis were upset at the American raid, but emphasized "the extraordinary circumstances behind the mission against bin Laden."
"When I spoke with the leaders of Pakistan last night and today, I explained that the extreme secrecy surrounding every aspect of the raid in Abbottabad was essential to protecting the lives of the professionals who were involved and ensuring they succeeded in capturing or killing the man responsible for so much death in so many places," said Kerry.
But he also said that bin Laden and other foreign fighters who followed him to Pakistan from Afghanistan were the ones "who truly violated Pakistan's sovereignty."
"They inspired and conspired with the extremists responsible for the deaths of 35,000 Pakistani citizens and the deaths of more than 5,000 Pakistani soldiers," said Kerry.
He said he was pleased the Pakistani government has committed "to explore how increased cooperation on joint operations and intelligence sharing can maximize our efforts ... to defeat the enemies we face."
Kerry also announced that Pakistan had agreed to return the tail of a stealth U.S. helicopter that American commandos had to destroy during the bin Laden raid because it malfunctioned.
U.S. officials have increased pressure on Pakistan since the raid, but they also seem to be trying to balance their anger, aware of the risk of wholly severing ties with the nuclear-armed country. Pakistan's cooperation is considered vital to ending the war in Afghanistan.
The U.S. has long pressed Pakistan to take action against several powerful Afghan Taliban factions sheltering on its soil. The leader of the Afghan insurgency, Mullah Omar, is widely believed to be in the southwest Pakistani province of Baluchistan, and allegations he is being harbored by the country have been strengthened since the death of bin Laden.60 Minutes" Sunday, Afghanistan's former chief of intelligence Amrullah Saleh made the case that Pakistan was knowingly sheltering militants and said he had even told Pakistan's president that bin Laden was hiding in a town near Abbottabad, where U.S. Navy SEALs eventually found and killed him.
Saleh told CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan that Pakistan was a "hostile state," not a friend to the United States.
"The amount of pain Pakistan has inflicted upon the United States in the past 12 years is unprecedented. No other country has inflicted that amount of pain upon your nation," he said.
In a parliamentary resolution Saturday, Pakistani lawmakers did not mention the fact that bin Laden was living in the army town or the suspicions of collusion, but instead warned of the consequences if any more American incursions were take place in the future.
They also threatened to stop NATO and U.S. trucks from using its land routes to ferry supplies across the border to troops in Afghanistan unless Washington does not stop missile attacks on its territory.
Much is at stake. The United States needs Pakistan's cooperation if it hopes to find a solution to the Afghan war and help a reconciliation process that hopes to fashion a nonmilitary solution to the Taliban insurgency. It also needs Pakistan's military help against insurgents using its lawless tribal areas to stage attacks against American, coalition and Afghan forces.
It also needs to ensure that nuclear-armed Pakistan does not succumb to rising Islamic extremism and its own tenacious insurgency, which has cost the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians.
Pakistan's failing economy desperately needs American and other foreign aid. Since 2002, Pakistan has received more than $20 billion from the U.S., making the country one of the largest U.S. aid recipients, according to the Congressional Research Service. Nearly $9 billion of that has been reimbursements for Pakistan's costs to support the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
In a sign of how politically hot the raid has become, the government of Punjab, Pakistan's wealthiest and most populous province, announced Monday that it wants to stop taking foreign aid.
Punjab is run by a party that is in the opposition on the federal level, and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said the decision by his Cabinet still needs approval by the party.
It's also unclear how much foreign aid goes directly into Punjab's government coffers much of it is funneled through aid organizations or the federal government. So the announcement could be largely political theatrics.
It is time for Pakistanis to "insist on dignified and honorable relations with the superpowers and refuse to compromise our national interests, freedom, and sovereignty," Sharif said in announcing the move.