Statements and Speeches

Opening Statement: "From Strategy to Implementation: Strengthening U.S.-Pakistan Relations"

Subcommittee On Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, And International Security

Jul 07 2009

I would like to thank my colleagues, our distinguished witnesses and guests for joining Senator McCain and me today.

Before I begin, I want to give a special thanks to the men and women serving in the U.S. Embassies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I was in both countries in late May, and I can say with great confidence that Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Ambassador Anne Patterson and their staffs are highly effective. I commend their leadership and all our personnel serving there for their capable service.

An Islamist insurgency rages in western Pakistan and senior U.S. officials are concerned about the declining security situation and new vulnerabilities for Pakistan's growing nuclear arsenal. This intensifying insurgency, political instability, a devastating humanitarian crisis, and an intensely anti-American population threaten an already fragile Pakistani government.

These factors present unique challenges to the United States and the strategy President Obama laid out in late March. In my view, the administration developed a strategy that addresses the region’s concerns, while understanding that the challenges of Afghanistan and Pakistan are linked. This hearing will examine implementation of the new strategy. Our focus will be on the hardest and most critical problem of the region: Pakistan.

Most national security experts agree that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world today, for one primary reason: Nowhere else in the world is there such a lethal combination of Islamic extremism, terrorist groups with global reach, nuclear proliferation and nuclear weapons.

In late March, President Obama said that Pakistan’s lawless border region had “become the most dangerous place in the world” for Americans.Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan “the site of planning for the next attack” on the United States. 

Moreover, the region is still widely thought to be the hiding place of Osama bin Laden. General David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said recently that Pakistan has become the “nerve center” of al Qaeda's global operations, allowing it to re-establish its organizational structure and build stronger ties with offshoots in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and parts of Europe.

Pakistani officials acknowledge that their country is facing perhaps the greatest threat since its creation – a growing, virulent threat from al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Islamist groups. In the month since our delegation was in Pakistan, the Pakistani military has launched offensives in the Northwest Frontier Province (Swat Valley) and in South Waziristan, an agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). 

Many experts have been skeptical of whether Pakistani officials understand the existential threat to their own country. But an extraordinary thing has happened in the last month-and-a-half: for the first time ever, President Zardari, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani military and more than 80 percent of Pakistanis view the Taliban and al Qaeda as a critical threat to Pakistan. I agree with Secretary Napolitano’s statement that the Pakistani government's crackdown on the Taliban has improved U.S. security.

The Obama administration has promised Pakistan $1.5 billion a year in aid for the next five years in humanitarian and economic assistance. And although the Senate unanimously passed the Kerry-Lugar bill I cosponsored just two weeks ago, the bill is now stuck in Congress with a list of conditions with which many Pakistanis are uncomfortable. This bill is vital both to U.S. national security and Pakistan's 175 million people, and I urge the conferees to send the president a bill to sign.

Finally, it goes without saying that the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is of the utmost importance. As the insurgency spreads in Pakistan, senior American officials are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, including the potential for militants to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities or to seize a weapon in transport. Preventing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and technology from falling into the wrong hands should be a top priority for both our countries.

These facts lead to a series of urgent questions:

One, the Obama administration has recognized that the United States needs a long-term, comprehensive plan to address the terrorist threats in Pakistan. How is implementation of the President’s strategy going?

Two, there is a complex network of extremist groups operating in the lawless region near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, including the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda, and other affiliated and other sectarian groups. How should policymakers prioritize which of these groups to target? Who is reconcilable among them?

Three, since 9/11, the United States has allocated billions of dollars to non-military assistance programming in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What should our goals be for distribution of the Kerry-Lugar assistance? What should the delivery mechanisms be?

Four, what can our government do to address the problems caused by anti-American sentiments in Pakistan? Does the current humanitarian crisis present the United States with an opportunity in this regard? What additional actions might reverse widespread distrust of the United States among Pakistanis?

Five, in the past, the Pakistani government and army have undertaken only sporadic militarized efforts, punctuated by lulls when truce deals allowed the militants to regroup and grow stronger. How should we assess what now appears to be a fairly robust Pakistani effort to combat extremism inside their country? Are current military operations a sign of meaningful change in this pattern?

Six, some analysts argue that the Pakistani military has been slow to reorient itself toward modern counter-insurgency planning. How does this affect U.S. regional interests? Has our military assistance to Pakistan sufficiently bolstered that country’s counterterrorism capabilities? Should the United States to reassess how foreign military financing and coalition support funds are used by the Islamabad government?

Finally, what is the probability of al Qaeda or another terrorist group acquiring a warhead or enough radioactive material to create a dirty bomb? What is the possibility of an insider threat at Pakistani nuclear facilities?

Today, with these questions in mind, I would like us to try to do the following:

Assess the status of the implementation of President Obama’s new strategy towards Pakistan;

- Examine the complex set of threats from western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan;

 - Discuss the most effective strategic, short- and long-term policy options regarding Pakistan, particularly related to Islamic extremism and to security Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal; and

- Solicit ideas about how Congress can play a more robust role in the path forward, specifically in non-military assistance to Pakistan.

If our national security is linked to the success, security and stability of a democratic Pakistan, we have no choice but to engage in a smart, sustained, long-term partnership. The U.S. needs, and is finally on the path to achieving, a Pakistan-based policy as opposed to a leader- or government-based policy.

Thanks again to our witnesses for taking this opportunity to talk with us today about the nature of the challenges before us and how best to address them.