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US aid to Pak hangs in balance

world Updated: May 10, 2010 01:02 IST

After more than a year of doling out carrots to Pakistan, the Obama administration has reminded its strategic partner on the Afghanistan border that the US mood could quickly sour if FBI investigators confirm ties between the Times Square bombing suspect and Pakistani insurgent groups.

The warnings so far have been nonspecific, and publicly couched in confidence that the Pakistanis will do whatever is required. But the administration has indicated that anything less than full cooperation on the May 8 bombing attempt could make the continued flow of billions of US economic and security dollars “problematic”, officials said.

Pakistani efforts to combat the militants have under gone a positive “sea change” over the past year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview to CBS’s 60 Minutes.

But “we want more, we expect more”, Clinton said. “We’ve made it very clear that if, heaven forbid, an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, gave a similar message Friday during a meeting with Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani.

On Saturday, the administration delivered a formal request to Pakistan for help in investigating the suspect’s ties with militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

An ever-closer relationship with Pakistan is at the core of Obama’s war strategy in Afghanistan and against Al-Qaeda.

“There’s going to be enough here to trigger a policy debate,” said an official with access to US intelligence on Pakistan and involvement in White House discussions about the bombing attempt. “This is going to create a new focus on Pakistan, militants in the tribal areas and their recruitment of and connections” to terror operatives recruited in the West, the official said.

The suspect, Pakistan-born and raised Faisal Shahzad, is a naturalised US citizen who has told investigators that he was trained by Tehrik-e-Taliban, the so-called Pakistani Taliban, and met with its highest officials during visits there.

To some officials, Shahzad’s story has exposed a growing disconnect between the strategy of patiently wooing Pakistan, and the reality of a direct threat to the US homeland from Pakistani-based militants.

Impatient with the intricacies of Pakistani politics, its anti-American sensitivities and its fixation on India as its threat, these officials see the Times Square incident as weighing in favour of a far more muscular and unilateral US policy.

To others, it is too early to draw conclusions about Shahzad’s connections and how the Pakistani government will deal with them. The administration view is that US aid and strategic ties have begun to pay dividends and “reinforce the point that the strategy we designed over a year ago was the right strategy,” an official said.

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