Lobbyists acting for Pakistan in Washington are engaged in a frantic damage limitation exercise as accusations of complicity between Islamabad and Osama bin Laden threaten to damage relations and cut the flow of US aid.
Does Pakistani support for bin Laden include the government?
Politicians in Washington are concerned that elements of the Pakistani government or security services may have had a hand in protecting bin Laden and keeping him hidden in his hillside retreat of Abbottabad.
The pressure on Pakistan appears to be growing after it was revealed that US analysts were trawling through information obtained on the raid on bin Laden's compound on May 1 for any possible clues that may explain how it was possible for the al-Qaeda leader to live in a Pakistani safehouse right under the noses of the country's elite military academy.
President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism coordinator, John Brennan, told ABC television this week that there was a clear indication that bin Laden had "some type of support network that provided him assistance and helped facilitate contact between him and his operatives."
US analysts were trying to determine whether or not there were individuals within the Pakistani government or military intelligence services who were "knowledgeable about bin Laden's residence there and whether or not they were providing support," Brennan said.
It's clear that the angry response in some US circles has shocked Pakistan. A number of US lobby groups responsible for drumming up aid and support for Islamabad on Capitol Hill have been quoted by news sources as saying that they have been in regular contact with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistani ambassador in Washington since bin Laden was killed and that the Pakistanis are "concerned" over the seriousness of the fallout and the potential consequences.
The furor over a possible link between al Qaeda and high-ranking politicians or security officers in Pakistan have led to calls in the US for the billions of dollars in aid the country receives to be stopped - at least until a full investigation has been conducted.
Anger leads to call for cuts
US support for Zardari's Pakistan is now under threat
Pakistan is due to receive nearly $3 billion (2.06 billion euros) in aid from the United States this year and has been given over $20 billion since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. US lawmakers are considering blocking this year's annual payment until the Zardari administration explains how bin Laden managed to live untouched just 30 miles (50 km) outside Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, for six years until he was killed by US Special Forces.
"US funding essentially goes into two pots: the military and the economic," Xenia Dormandy, a US foreign policy expert at Chatham House, told Deutsche Welle. "If funding is cut, it'll be from the economic pot first and then the military."
"Both will have significant effects on Pakistan, although it is unlikely that we'll hear anything publicly about this because Pakistan's policy is to say that they don't need US help and money but in real terms, it needs all the support it can get."
Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate subcommittee that allocates foreign aid, called for a complete review of US funding to Pakistan on Thursday, adding that he was certain that some Pakistani military and intelligence officials knew where bin Laden had been hiding.
Pakistani Taliban groups continue to target US forces
Other US politicians have gone further; some have called for a re-evaluation of Washington's relationship with Pakistan, while others have expressed doubts over Pakistan's commitment to the fight against extremism and have speculated that US dollars may have been diverted to groups which have interests contrary to those of the United States.
Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, another member of the Senate subcommittee for foreign aid, accused Pakistan's intelligence services of failing to cut all ties to Muslim extremists, including some which continue to strike at US-led forces in Afghanistan from bases over the border in Pakistan. "Before we send another dime, we need to know whether Pakistan truly stands with us in the fight against terrorism," he told reporters this week.
"There is no evidence as yet to confirm Pakistan's alleged collusion with bin Laden but if there is, funding will be cut immediately and diplomatic ties, at least for the short term, may be frozen," Dormandy said. "If there isn't, then it's still going to be hard for any aid increases to Pakistan to pass through the US Senate and a major rethink on relations will probably still happen."
Dormandy said that she thought that cutting funding would an unwise move for the US to make, adding that efforts to forge a strategic relationship with Pakistan were already struggling and the chances of improving this would be very slim if aid was cut.
"The US and Pakistan need each other," she added. "The US isn't going to deploy troops along the Afghan border anytime soon and Pakistan relies heavily on US money and support, whatever it may say. But they need to change the relationship from pursuing short-term goals to a long-term strategy based on the shoring up of Pakistan's democracy and stability."
A rock and a hard place
Christian Wagner, an expert with the Asia research group at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, believes the US finds itself in a difficult position when dealing with Pakistan as some of the accusations leveled at Islamabad are unfortunately true.
Pakistan faces an internal battle against extremists
"Pakistan is absolutely not a terrorist state, but there are massive problems there in the fight against terrorism," he told Deutsche Welle. "Pakistan rightly points out that it has made huge gains in the fight against terrorism, especially in the struggle against al Qaeda groups and the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border."
On the other hand, Wagner admitted, it is a well-known fact that Pakistani armed forces continue to tolerate the activities of Afghan Taliban groups and grant them safe haven in the hope that they themselves can gain influence in Afghanistan as a result.
Wagner said that cutting aid to Pakistan would severely hinder Islamabad's own anti-terror efforts and could lead to disastrous consequences for the country's internal stability. As a result, US interests and the overall stability of the surrounding region would suffer.
"The US has no interest in contributing to the economic decline and bankruptcy of Pakistan," he said. "Pakistan's security depends on international collaboration and above all on its collaboration with the United States."
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge