Gates urges patience with Pakistan after tip-off suspicions
* US defence chief says US and Pakistan need each other, relationship goes beyond Afghanistan
* Says we have to be realistic about Pakistan’s distrust
WASHINGTON: The US is disappointed and suspicious that terrorists in Pakistan apparently were tipped off that American intelligence officials had discovered two of their suspected bomb-making facilities, Defence Secretary Robert Gates says.
But he stopped short of concluding that Pakistani officials leaked the information to the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani insurgents. And Gates said such incidents must not derail US relations with Islamabad. A little over two weeks before ending his 4 1/2-year tenure as Pentagon chief, Gates sat down in his office Monday for an Associated Press interview that touched on a range of issues, including his expectation of a smooth handoff to his designated successor, current CIA Director Leon Panetta. Gates will retire June 30; Panetta’s Senate confirmation is expected shortly.
The Pakistan intelligence breach has only fuelled unease in the US, where officials worry about links between the intelligence service there and some terrorist groups. A US official said Monday that after telling Pakistani intelligence about the location of the two compounds, US drones and satellite feeds showed the terrorists clearing out the contents at both sites.
“We don’t know the specifics of what happened,” said Gates. “There are suspicions and there are questions, but I think there was clearly disappointment on our part.” As an act of faith to restore relations with Pakistan, US intelligence in recent weeks shared the location of two such compounds believed to contain bomb material held by the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network. But by the time Pakistani authorities reached the facilities, they had been vacated.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said the assumption was that the Pakistanis had tipped off the Haqqanis. Asked whether it was time to take a harder line with Pakistan, Gates counselled patience and noted that the Pakistanis have not forgotten that the US abandoned them in the late 1980s after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan.
“We need each other, and this relationship goes beyond Afghanistan,” he said. “It has to do with regional stability, and I think we have to be realistic about Pakistani distrust ... and their deep belief that when we’re done with al Qaeda that we’ll be gone, again.”
Despite recurring tensions between Washington and Islamabad, and questions by some in Congress about the wisdom of having spent billions of dollars on aiding Pakistan since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, Gates said the effort has paid off. Reflecting on his imminent departure from a job he has described as the most rewarding in his long career of government service – including 27 years at the CIA – Gates said he is confident that Panetta will gain his footing quickly at the Pentagon. “There is no lapse in terms of somebody getting up to speed on the issues,” Gates said. “Essentially, Leon just changes place in the Situation Room,” referring to the main crisis management room inside the White House. ap