As Pakistani civilian and military leaders arrive here this week for high-level meetings, the Obama administration will begin trying to mend a relationship badly damaged by the American military’s tough new stance in the region.
Among the sweeteners on the table will be a multi-year security pact with Pakistan, complete with more reliable military aid — something the Pakistani military has long sought to complement the five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid approved by Congress last year.
The new security pact would have three parts: the sale of American military equipment to Pakistan, a program to allow Pakistani military officers to study at American war colleges and counterinsurgency assistance to Pakistani troops.
Currently, the United States spends about $1.5 billion a year to provide this same assistance, but it is doled out year by year. The new agreement, if endorsed by Congress, would approve a multi-year plan assuring stability and continuity in the programs, although Congress would continue to appropriate the financing on a yearly basis. “This is designed to make our military and security assistance to Pakistan predictable and to signal to them that they can count on us,” said a senior official.
But the US gestures come at a time of fraying patience on the part of the Obama administration, and they will carry a familiar warning, a senior American official said: if Pakistan does not intensify its efforts to crack down on militants hiding out in the tribal areas of North Waziristan, or if another terrorist plot against the United States were to emanate from Pakistani soil, the administration would find it hard to keep supporting the country.
The Pakistanis will come with a similarly mixed message. While Pakistan is grateful for the strong American support after the flood, Pakistani officials said, it remains frustrated by what it perceives as the slow pace of economic aid, the lack of access to American markets for Pakistani goods and the administration’s continued lack of sympathy for the country’s confrontation with India.
Still, in a relationship suffused by tension and flare-ups — most recently over a NATO helicopter gunship that accidentally killed three Pakistani soldiers and Pakistan’s subsequent decision to close a supply route into Afghanistan —this regular meeting, known here as the strategic dialogue, serves as a lubricant to keep both countries talking.