WASHINGTON- Former US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter dismissed the notion that Pakistanis knew about Osama bin Laden hiding within their borders said that there is no evidence to back this claim.
Munter, speaking to audience members in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, noted there is much speculation that the Pakistani government was aware that Osama bin Laden was hiding within their borders but dismissed this notion as blatantly false. "It's not accurate that the Pakistanis knew that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad," Munter said. "We have not found any evidence. Our guys took tons and tons of evidence. It would have leaked, guaranteed."
Munter served as the ambassador to Pakistan from 2010-2012. He was expected to serve a full 18-month term, but submitted his resignation in May of 2012 as a "personal decision," said a spokesperson from the State Department at the time. In the discussion, the former ambassador touched on some of the biggest issues between the United States and Pakistan during his time as ambassador, specifically the capture of Osama bin Laden and the use of military drones. "When I got to Pakistan in 2010, the relationship went straight to hell," Munter said.
The tensions, however, were not created overnight. He mentioned that relations have been corroded by a decades-old sense of mistrust between the two governments that stems back from the early Cold War era. "It is in the DNA within most Americans, the Pakistanis think, that the Americans will betray the Pakistanis. There is deep distrust from the Pakistani side," Munter said. "The second narrative is the American side: We give these guys money, they lie to us."
Munter recounted one incident in which two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed by a U.S. drone strike in retaliation to a group of Afghan and American forces being fired upon by Pakistani border guards in November 2011. The clash, he said, strained ties between the two nations and marred the reputation of drone strikes. "Of those 24 Pakistanis, there was nothing left, there were no bodies," he said. "It was seen by the Pakistani government not only as a desecration but way over the top. We did not apologize for that because our military believed we had been fired on and replied in self-defense."
Following the strike, the CIA suspended its use of drones within the region for 12 weeks. Munter found their use as a strain on diplomatic relations. "The drones are a very tough problem," he said. "I think we basically backed up into our use of drones; in the political sense they don't work in my mind." Munter stressed, however, that the idea of drones causing multiple civilian causalities was without merit. "The wild accusations that we wipe out grandmothers picking daisies are false," Munter said. "That doesn't excuse us from the responsibility of explaining ourselves, because we don't, and we need to change that."
The former diplomat also served as ambassador during the May 2011 raid on the Abbottabad compound in which Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in northeastern Pakistan. Munter was involved firsthand in the decision-making process. "We didn't know it was Osama bin Laden there," Munter said. "The president had a lot of guts by taking that risk to go in. I was asked whether or not I thought it was a good idea. I said we will pay a price for this, but we cannot tell the Pakistanis. "
Munter explained that though the road to patching ties with Pakistan will be difficult, it is not impossible.
"Where we are now with Pakistan is a good point where we can take off and go into the future in a good way," he said. "We have about a 5 percent approval rating in Pakistan, but most people [in Pakistan] want a better relationship with the United States." Ends/Online