After Osama Bin Laden's Death, Billions in U.S. Aid to Pakistan Questioned

Lawmakers demand explanation from Pakistan on bin Laden's hiding place.

ByABC News
May 4, 2011, 5:36 PM

May 5, 2011— -- In the wake of the U.S.-led operation that killed Osama bin Laden, billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to Pakistan are in jeopardy as relations between the two countries turn sour.

Pakistan is coming under fire for not being able to spot bin Laden, who, instead of hiding in the remote caves of the northwest tribal areas as originally thought, was in fact living in an affluent neighborhood in Abbottabad, right near the Pakistani military academy.

U.S. administration officials say they didn't inform their Pakistani counterparts of the operation to hunt down and kill bin Laden until it was all but over, for fear that the information could be leaked into the wrong hands.

Pakistan has retaliated by calling for U.S. military personnel in the country to be cut to "minimum essential" levels, according to various reports.

Now, a growing chorus of lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling for the administration to reassess the billions in aid it provides to Pakistan, given how unhelpful they say the Pakistani government was.

From 2002 to 2010, the United States gave $13.3 billion in security-related aid to Pakistan, and $6 billion for economic assistance. More than $3 billion were requested for 2011.

For the 2012 fiscal year, the Obama administration has requested about $3 billion in foreign aid for Pakistan, and an additional $2.3 billion to help the country's counterterrorism efforts.

Pakistan first started receiving substantial aid from the United States in the 1980s, during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. It ballooned again following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the U.S. attack on the Taliban regime.

The money hasn't always been received with pomp, however. A 2009 non-military aid package that would give Pakistan $1.5 billion annually for five years came under heavy criticism in Pakistan, not just for the strings that were attached to it but because of the increase in drone attacks by the United States in the nation's tribal areas.

U.S.-Pakistan relations have become increasingly shaky in recent years amid questions about where the money is going and whether Pakistan is cooperating as much as it should. But experts say the relationship this week is likely the worst it's been since Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, bin Laden's death has spurred a debate on Capitol Hill about whether the United States can and should continue the funding.

Numerous top lawmakers in Congress have voiced suspicions about what -- if anything -- Pakistani officials knew about bin Laden's presence there. In the past two days, CIA chief Leon Panetta twice told members of Congress in classified briefings that Pakistan was either "knowledgeable or incompetent," according to lawmakers who attended the closed-door sessions.

"From an intelligence point of view, we would want to know more about why this wasn't discovered by the Pakistani authorities," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

One senator -- New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg -- went so far as to say that U.S. aid to Pakistan should be suspended until Congress receives answers about how bin Laden went undetected by authorities.

But cutting off financial aid to Pakistan would not come without serious risks. Experts say it could have serious implications on U.S. security and the terror threat.

"I think at the moment there's still a pretty high level of co-dependence between United States and Pakistan," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, who testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Breaking relations "has very serious repercussions, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for what's happening in the region."

"A sudden imposition of sanctions or a break in the relationship will have pretty severe and lasting consequences," he said. "It will also feed the narrative of certain extremist groups within Pakistan, and perhaps even among the moderates, that the U.S. is only in this for the short run."

Several U.S. lawmakers have expressed similar concerns, and caution against taking any actions until the issue of bin Laden's residency becomes clearer.