WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta vowed on Sunday not to let the United States be “gouged” by Pakistan on the price it charges for overland deliveries of American military supplies to Afghanistan.
Pakistan closed the land route to US supplies in November as punishment for a botched US air strike that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, but have been in negotiations to reopen the border crossing.
“We’re not about to get gouged in the price. We want a fair price,” Panetta said on ABC’s “This Week.”Panetta said it was “disturbing” and “difficult to understand” why Pakistan has handed a 33-year prison sentence for a doctor who aided the United States in finding terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Dr Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old Pakistani doctor, was convicted last week of high treason by a Pakistani tribal court for working with the CIA by running a fake vaccination programme near the al-Qaeda leader’s compound in Abbottabad in an attempt to collect DNA samples from bin Laden’s relatives to try to confirm his location. “It is so difficult to understand and it’s so disturbing that they would sentence this doctor to 33 years for helping in the search for the most notorious terrorist in our times,” Panetta said.
“This doctor was not working against Pakistan. He was working against al-Qaeda. And I hope that ultimately Pakistanunderstands that, because what they have done here, does not help in the effort to try to re-establish a relationship between the United States and Pakistan,” Panetta said.
When asked if Pakistan can still be considered a US ally, Panetta acknowledged the “complicated” relationship with the country.“This has been one of the most complicated relationships that we’ve had, working with Pakistan,” Panetta said, adding: “It’s an up-and-down relationship. There have been periods where we’ve had good cooperation and they have worked with us. And there have been periods where we’ve had conflict. So our responsibility here is to keep pushing them to understand how important it is for them to work with us to try to deal with the common threats we both face,” Panetta said.
“And what they did with this doctor doesn’t help in the effort to try to do that,” he added.Panetta called drone strikes “one of the most precise weapons that we have in our arsenal,” and said that protecting US security by levelling terrorist targets in countries like Pakistan and Yemen takes priority.
“Our responsibility is to defend and protect the United States of America,” Panetta said. “And using the operations that we have, using the systems that we have, using the weapons that we have, is absolutely essential to our ability to defend Americans. That’s what counts, and that’s what we’re doing.”