US Aid to Come with Strings Attached
ISLAMABAD: Stringent conditions are expected to be attached with the new $2 billion US military aid that Pakistan may start receiving from 2012.
Background interviews with American diplomats and Foreign Office officials reveal that the aid will be linked with progress against militant groups which the Obama administration believes the Pakistan military has yet to confront head on.
The Americans suspect that the Pakistan military has a “hands off” approach towards certain militant groups, namely the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a jihadi outfit believed to be active in Indian Kashmir.
A recent White House report submitted to the US Congress claims that the Pakistan military continued to avoid engagements that would put it in direct conflict with the Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda inspired Haqqani network in North Waziristan.
Official sources disclosed to The Express Tribune that the Indian lobby is also active in Washington to ensure that the US aid is linked with Pakistan dismantling LeT, which New Delhi believes was behind the Mumbai attacks.
However, it is widely believed that Pakistan’s reluctance to go after groups such as the Haqqani network stems from the fact that the military does not see it a direct threat to its interests.
The military establishment is also concerned over the growing Indian influence in Afghanistan therefore it is keeping its options open by not directly challenging the Afghan Taliban.
Another factor that disturbs Pakistan is its reported exclusion from the Afghan reconciliation process. “Pakistan wants the US to address these concerns before it goes all out against such militant groups,” said a Foreign Office official.
On Friday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani also warned that anyAfghan reconciliation plan, which excludes Pakistan, might not succeed – fuelling speculation that Islamabad is being kept at bay from the process.
“There must be discussions on all these issues during the strategic dialogue in Washington,” an American diplomat told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity.
He said the details of the aid package will be worked out in due course of time. “But I am sure that the assistance will be linked with certain conditions,” he added.
The conditions will certainly include Pakistan’s firm assurance that the military assistance would not be diverted to the country’s nuclear program.
“This is one of the serious issues for the US Congress,” he added.
The Express Tribune has also learnt that the Pakistan military asked for immediate assistance to boost its capability to launch an offensive in North Waziristan.
However, the Obama Administration told Pakistan that the US will provide assistance only after the military shows “substantive” progress against certain militant groups.
“The next two years are very crucial and the US will see what progress Pakistan has made to dismantle and destroy the ability of terrorists to target America and its allies,” remarked another US diplomat.
“If Pakistan lives up to its commitment, the US Congress will certainly have no hesitation to approve the aid,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2010.