Senate set to begin Af-Pak hearings

Senate set to begin Af-Pak hearings

Only days after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Senate will begin a series of hearings to assess the progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the way forward in the war on al Qaeda.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) chairman John Kerry (D-MA) announced the hearings Monday, framing them as a forum "to debate the end-state in Afghanistan, assess the strategic relationship between the United States and Pakistan, and examine regional implications." The hearings have been planned for some time, but the killing of bin Laden gives them new focus and increased importance, he said.

"The killing of Osama bin Laden closes an important chapter in our war against extremists who kill innocent people around the world," Kerry said in a statement. "A single death does not end the threat from al Qaeda and its affiliated groups and highlights the need to thoroughly evaluate our strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We need to make certain we are asking tough questions about the direction and effectiveness of our policy."

Kerry has been an integral part of the administration’s Afghanistan and Pakistan diplomacy. He was personally dispatched to mend ties with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in October 2009, and traveled to Lahore, Pakistan, in February to defuse tensions over the killing of two Pakistanis by CIA contractor Raymond Davis. Kerry was also there to negotiate the terms of Davis’s release.

The committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), echoed Kerry’s concerns about the lingering danger of al Qaeda in a statement on Sunday night, in which he said "the death of Osama bin Laden is welcome news, but it in no way eliminates the threat from the terrorism he espoused."

On Tuesday, the SFRC will hear testimony on Afghanistan from Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, former State Department Policy Planning Director Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

On May 5, the committee will shift its focus to Pakistan and will hear from Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director at the International Crisis Group, Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser at U.S. Institute of Peace’s Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention, and Michael Krepon, co-founder and senior associate for South Asia at the Stimson Center. More hearings will be announced soon, a committee spokesman said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also struck a cautious note in her Monday remarks on bin Laden’s death.

"Continued cooperation will be just as important in the days ahead, because even as we mark this milestone, we should not forget that the battle to stop al Qaeda and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death of bin Laden," she said. "Indeed, we must take this opportunity to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts."