By CNN National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
As the United States and Pakistan continue to pick up the pieces of their relationship following the May 2 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, Secretary of State Clinton pulled no punches in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday over the difficulty in assessing who in Pakistan may have known the whereabouts of the terrorist leader.
"With respect specifically to bin Laden, we have looked very hard and we have scrubbed all of the intelligence that we have," Clinton said in testimony to update the committee on the situation in Afghanistan following President Obama's announcement of a drawdown in U.S. forces there. "But we do believe that at the highest levels –however, I have said and I know other members of the administration have said, we do not in any way rule out or absolve those who are at lower levels who may very well have been enablers and protectors."
But it was Clinton's follow-up to that statement that underscored the challenging nature of determining the extent of bin Laden's support network inside Pakistan. "Now, the - the fair question is: Well, were they protecting their higher-ups? Could be. You know, was it one of these kind of a wink-and-a-nod? Maybe so," Clinton said in response to a question from Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on the effectiveness of U.S. taxpayer assistance to Pakistan. "But in looking at every scrap of information we have, we think that the highest levels of the government were genuinely surprised."
The New York Times reported on a recovered cell phone belonging to one of bin Laden's couriers, seized in the raid that killed him, that contained contacts to a militant group used as an asset by Pakistan's intelligence agency.
With a recent poll in Pakistan finding only twelve percent of respondents with a favorable view of the United States, Clinton sought to explain a somewhat skeptical audience of why it was still important to advance American values and interests there. "From time to time, you know, we do a lot of business around the world with governments that don't meet our values, don't share our interests, but with whom we believe we have strategic security concerns."
Those security concerns, chief among them the prevention of a "safe haven for those who kill Americans," will keep the United States engaged in Pakistan for the long run, Clinton said.
When it comes to Pakistan, "there is a ledger, and there on one side of the ledger are a lot of actions that we really disapprove of and find inimitable to our values and even our interests. And then on the other side of the ledger there are actions that are very much in line with what we are seeking and want. So we're constantly balancing and weighing that. And we've made the assessment in this administration that despite the challenges, we have to continue to engage, we have to continue to work with, and we have to continue to try to influence Pakistani behavior," Clinton said.
Clinton told the committee the United States continues to ask "tough questions" of Pakistan, and looks to them for help in defeating violent extremism, securing a stable and prosperous future for Pakistanis, as well as assistance in ending the conflict in Afghanistan. "We're going to continue to make clear our expectations, we're going to continue to work with them across the entire political spectrum, we're going to demand more from them, but we are not going to expect miracles overnight," she said.
While the United States "cannot and should not try to solve Pakistan's problems," Clinton said for all the frustration the relationship causes, the United States cannot afford to pull away from the region as it did in 1989 following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. "Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state sitting at the crossroads of a strategic region. And we have seen this movie before. We have seen the cost of disengaging from the region."