US prez candidates highlight strain in ties with Pak

Boca Raton (Florida): President Barack Obama today said that the US would have had never killed al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden if he had to seek permission from Pakistan, indicating the sheer lack of trust he has with the Pakistani leadership and its military in particular.

"If we had asked Pakistan for permission, we would not have gotten him. And it was worth moving heaven and earth to get him," Obama said during the last of the three high-stake presidential debates just two weeks before November 6 polls.

Obama said he has delivered what he had promised on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

"When it comes to going after Osama bin Laden, you said, well, any President would make that call. But when you were a candidate in 2008 – as I was – and I said, if I got bin Laden in our sights, I would take that shot, you said we shouldn't move heaven and earth to get one man, and you said we should ask Pakistan for permission," Obama said.

Romney agreed that going after bin Laden without the permission of Pakistan was the right thing to do. "I don't blame the administration for the fact that the relationship with Pakistan is strained. We had to go into Pakistan; we had to go in there to get Osama bin Laden. That was the right thing to do," said the Republican presidential candidate during Af-Pak section of the debate.

Responding to a question, Romney argued despite a strained relationship with Pakistan, the United States can't afford to "divorce" itself with Pakistan, which is a nation of more than a 100 nuclear weapons.

"No, it's not time to divorce a nation on earth that has a hundred nuclear weapons and is on the way to double that at some point, a nation that has serious threats from terrorist groups within its nation, the Taliban, Haqqani network. It's a nation that's not like others and that does not have a civilian leadership that is calling the shots there," he said.

"Pakistan is important to the region, to the world and to us, because Pakistan has 100 nuclear warheads, and they're rushing to build a lot more. They'll have more than Great Britain sometime in the relatively near future," Romney said.

"They also have the Haqqani network and Taliban existent within their country. And so a Pakistan that falls apart, becomes a failed state would be of extraordinary danger to Afghanistan and us. So we're going to have to remain helpful in encouraging Pakistan to move towards a more stable government and rebuild a relationship with us. And that means that our aid that we provide to Pakistan is going to have to be conditioned upon certain benchmarks being met," he said.

Romney said the ISI is "is probably the most powerful" wing of the Pakistani military now. "This is a nation which if it falls apart – if it becomes a failed state, there are nuclear weapons there and you've got – you've got terrorists there who could grab their hands onto those nuclear weapons."

"This is an important part of the world for us. Pakistan is technically an ally, and they're not acting very much like an ally right now, but we have some work to do," Romney said, and quickly added that the US needs to work with Pakistan, but at the same time its aid to Islamabad to be conditions based.

"It's important for us to recognize that we can't just walk away from Pakistan. But we do need to make sure that as we send support for them, that this is tied to them making progress on matters that would lead them to becoming a civil society," he said.

Romney also supported the use of drones to kill terrorists. "I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world."

"It is widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the President was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends," he said.

"We're also going to have to have a far more effective and comprehensive strategy to help move the world away from terror and Islamic extremism," he said.