Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) returned on Tuesday from a trip to Pakistan where he had two somewhat conflicting missions: deliver Congress's tough love message to Islamabad and chart a path forward for mending government-to-government relations.
Kerry gave a long readout of his trip to all Democratic senators on Tuesday at their weekly caucus lunch meeting, after which multiple Democratic senators reported they were more determined than ever to use foreign aid as leverage to pressure Islamabad to go after America's enemies living in their midst.
"Kerry notified [the Pakistani government] that there are some serious problems with their continuing to harbor terrorists like the Haqqani network," Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said upon emerging from the lunch meeting. "He brought forcefully to the attention of Pakistan that their continuing support and harboring of the Haqqanis is creating a big problem for continuing any kind of financial support."
Levin has long called for Pakistan to take stronger action against the Islamic extremist groups in South Waziristan, which include the Quetta Shura, led by Mullah Omar. But now he is ready to put America's money where his mouth is by threatening to link such action to U.S. aid and he thinks he has his caucus' support behind him.
"I believe there is strong feeling inside the Democratic group of senators that the continued harboring of the Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura by the Pakistanis represents a real problem in terms of continuing financial support to Pakistan," Levin said.
Earlier this month, Levin told The Cable that he wants to continue certain types of military aid that are in direct support of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan but wants to more heavily condition economic aid -- such as the $1.5 billion in annual funds provided under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation signed into law last year.
Levin's committee has some sway, but the rubber meets the road at the Appropriations Committee, where Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) chairs the subcommittee that dispenses foreign aid. Leahy has long been a critic of U.S. economic aid to Pakistan.
"There are three areas of the world I'm reviewing for the appropriations bill where we may have some significant changes. That's one of the three areas," Leahy told The Cable on Tuesday.
Kerry is now in the uncomfortable position of defending ties with Pakistan. He made a robust case for continued strong relations in Tuesday morning's SFRC hearing on Pakistan with former National Security Advisor Jim Jones.
"As much as some people have reached a level of impatience or serious evaluation about where we are and where we're going, it's very clear to me that we need to be really careful and thoughtful so as to get the policy right, so as to not lose the progress that has been made," Kerry said.
Kerry said at the hearing that he conveyed the angst in Washington regarding Pakistan's behavior to top Pakistani officials and emphasized that "this relationship will not be measured by words or by communiques after meetings like the ones that I engaged in; it will only be measured by actions," he said.
To that end, Pakistan agreed to return the tail of the downed "secret" helicopter from the Navy SEALs raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, Kerry said, and expressed hope of more progress. Special Representative Marc Grossman is due to visit Pakistan later this week and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to go there soon, but that planning is in flux.
SFRC ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) sounded a note at the hearing similar to Levin's.
"The Obama administration should make clear to Pakistan's military that going after some terrorists while coddling others will not be tolerated," he said. "It should also communicate that the Pakistani military's deliberate fomenting of anti-American demonstrations to oppose U.S. initiatives and Pakistan's own civilian leadership is not acceptable."
Several senators at the hearing complained about providing aid to Pakistan while the country's citizens continue to vilify the United States.
"I'll be interested to hear what Senator Kerry has to say about these items that are -- that are non-aid items, because frankly, I'm getting tired of it, and I think Americans are getting tired of it as far as shoveling money in there to people who just flat don't like us," said Sen. James Risch (R-ID).
"The one thing I'd say to you, Senator, is that right now we have about 100,000 reasons for worrying about our relationship with Pakistan, and they're called our young men and women, and they're in uniform in Afghanistan," Kerry responded.