White House setting up a game of good cop, bad cop with Pakistan

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House officials are setting up a game where the White House and Congress get to play good-cop/bad-cop with Pakistan’s government, which each year receives more than a billion dollars in U.S. aid.

In the last two days, top officials have repeatedly complimented Pakistan’s government for helping arrest and kill jihadis, but have also repeatedly said that Pakistan has to explain why Osama bin Laden was comfortably tucked away in a villa, nestled in a city that is Pakistan’s combination of the United States’ West Point military academy and of the Hamptons, a wealthy district on Long Island

Members of Congress are eager to take up the role of tough-cop. Democratic Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut are among the growing number of legislators who are eager to question the Pakistan government’s trustworthiness. Pakistan “is playing a double-game, and that’s very troubling to me,” Collins said. “Financial aid to Pakistan should be suspended” until the government shows it is not protecting jihadis, said Lautenberg, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee that approves financial aid for Pakistan.

“I don’t have any comment about aid,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday.

The cutoff of U.S. funds is a significant threat to Pakistan’s elites, because the country needs economic aid to grow the economy in line with its young, fast-growing and increasingly Islamist population of more than 180 million.

The budget request sent by the White House to Congress in February seeks $3 billion in aid for Pakistan, including $1.5 billion in military-related aid. The United States has sent more than $11 billion in military aid to Pakistan since 2002, plus $6 billion in non-military funding.

Officials in the United Kingdom, which has a large Pakistani population, are also questioning the government’s knowledge of bin Laden’s location. The U.K. sends aid to Pakistan under a project intended to funnel roughly $1 billion to the country between 2009 and 2013.

Pakistan is already playing a good cop/bad-cop game with the United States.

The country is home to a burgeoning Islamist movement, whose leaders want to gain control of the country’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. Pakistani military and intelligence officials frequently say they need U.S. military and civilian aid to suppress those Islamist forces. But it also curbs those forces by pushing them to fight U.S. and Afghan soldiers in Afghanistan, even as it supplies intelligence about Al Qaeda activities to the United States and turns a blind eye to U.S. drone attacks on jihadi hideouts in the country.

White House officials have happily spurred the legislators’ skepticism about Pakistan.

“I’m sure a number of people have questions about whether or not there was some type of support that was provided by the Pakistani government,” said John Brennan, the White House’s homeland security and counterterrorism chief. “I think it’s inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time… [and] we are closely talking to the Pakistanis right now, and again, we are leaving open opportunities to continue to pursue whatever leads might be out there,” he said at the Monday White House press conference.

Still, he coupled his questions with compliments for Pakistan’s cooperation since 2001. “Pakistan has been responsible for capturing and killing more terrorists inside of Pakistan than any country, and it’s by a wide margin” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton adopted the same wide stance in her Monday speech, where she both praised Pakistan’s government and urged it to provide more information about bin Laden’s locations.

Carney continued the pressure on Tuesday. “Pakistan, in general, has been very helpful in many ways…we look forward to finding out more about the support network that allows bin Laden to hide in a suburb of Islamabad,” he said.

Bin Laden “clearly hid from sight, our sight, for a very long period of time,” Carney said, adding that U.S. officials were examining material captured during the raid to learn about the “sustaining network” that had helped bin Laden live in Pakistan. The captured materials, according to media reports, include computers and memory sticks.

The United States “has a very complicated relationship with Pakistan” Carney said, adding that it “is a key partner in the fight against terrorism.”