Kerry: Time to reset relationship with Pakistan

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Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on CBS' "Face the Nation," May 8, 2011.
CBS

Sen. John Kerry said on Sunday he thought the death of Osama bin Laden had opened up an "enormous opportunity" for the United States in terms of its relationship with Pakistan - despite the fact that many in Congress have recently called for a reevaluation of that alliance.

Kerry, during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," acknowledged that there were "serious questions" about what Pakistani officials may have known regarding the location of bin Laden, who is believed to have remained hidden for the past five years in a conspicuous compound located just miles outside of the Pakistani capital, in a city with a heavy military presence.

But the Massachusetts Democrat emphasized the importance of America's relationship with Pakistan, particularly with regards to the Afghan war, and noted that bin Laden's death could be a crucial turning point in determining the future of policies in Afghanistan.

"It's an opportunity for our relationship in Pakistan and an opportunity for our policies in Afghanistan," Kerry said. "And obviously they are very, very linked."

"The mission hasn't changed," Kerry added, of U.S. goals in Afghanistan. "The mission is the same - which is to disrupt al Qaeda and prevent them from using Afghanistan as a sanctuary."

But, he argued, there is room for improvement in the execution of that mission.

"Can we perform that mission more effectively? Can we do it in a way with less troops, with less footprint in Afghanistan?" Kerry asked. "And one of the things I'll be looking for, particularly in my conversations with [Afghan] President Karzai is, how they may view our ability to be able to change the posture in ways that work for them and for us more effectively. I think we have the ability to have a different footprint and still accomplish our goals."

Kerry contended that Pakistani involvement was of primary importance in the United States' chances at successfully achieving those objectives.

"What Pakistan chooses to do and what happens in Pakistan in fact can have more to do with determining the course of events in Afghanistan than almost any other single thing," Kerry told CBS' Bob Schieffer. "If out of this Osama bin Laden event Pakistan now decides to really engage in a very different strategic relationship; if they go after the Fatah; if they were to say, 'We're expelling all foreign nationals who are here illegally"; if they have a different ISI relationship with us; if they were to move to engage in a different kind of cooperative effort on the ground, that could significantly - and I do mean significantly - change the dynamic with the Taliban, the possibilities of reconciliation, the possibilities of negotiation, and ultimately the numbers of troops that are in Afghanistan.

"Remember, no military leader of ours - and I think no civilian person - has said there is anything but a non-military solution to Afghanistan," Kerry added. "We have to have a political solution."

Kerry conceded that "for a period of time our interests in Pakistan have not converged," and said that "all of that has to change."

But, he added, "I believe [it] can change."

"I've had some early conversations with high level officials of Pakistan," Kerry said. "There's an indication to me there is an enormous amount of introspection going on and some very deep evaluating within Pakistan. I know for a fact they are thinking of a government inquiry outside of the military. For the first time there is major criticism in Pakistani papers of the intelligence network and the military ... So I see this as a time for us to be careful, to be thoughtful, to proceed deliberately but determinedly in order to lay on the table the things that we know have to change.

"I see opportunity in all of this to sort of punch a reset button and frankly serve our interests and theirs much more effectively," he added.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed that it was important for the U.S. to maintain its relationships in Pakistan and surrounding countries.

"We need to recognize, as was said, that we supply our coalition forces in Afghanistan from Pakistan," he told Schieffer in an interview on "Face the Nation." "We have damaged our relationships up with Uzbekistan on the northern border. And we need to maintain those relationships."

Of the Pakistani government, Rumsfeld said, "We've been able to do a great many things, some with their open cooperation, some with their silent acquiescence. And it's a complex problem they've got. It's a Muslim country. They have nuclear weapons. They have problems with the tribes on both sides of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"So we have to work with them and recognize the complexity," of the situation," he added.

Kerry also noted that the Sunday night raid on bin Laden's Abbottabad compound had yielded an "unbelievable treasure of information" that not only demonstrated the full extent of the al Qaeda leader's involvement in the organization in the last several years, but which could also prove "extraordinarily important" in leading to an al Qaeda crackdown.

"The information that comes out of it absolutely underscores the degree to which Osama bin Laden was actively running, plotting, organizing, recruiting, engaged in the entire management of al Qaeda. This man was not retired," Kerry said. "He had not stepped back. He had not receded into the shadows. He was not irrelevant." 

"Hopefully [the information] will lead to the breaking up of plots that may have been imminent," Kerry added. "It will lead to their operatives. It will lead us to people in other countries who may have been supportive. There may be information about financing. There may be information about their operatives in Pakistan or elsewhere. It's extraordinarily important."