With conditions set on aid, Pak sharpens tone
When US envoy Richard Holbrooke arrives in Pakistan this week he will be publicly feted for President Barack Obama's pledge of massive, long-term aid for a wobbling nation critical to America's strategy for turning around the war in Afghanistan.Updated: Apr 05, 2009 22:37 IST
When US envoy Richard Holbrooke arrives in Pakistan this week he will be publicly feted for President Barack Obama's pledge of massive, long-term aid for a wobbling nation critical to America's strategy for turning around the war in Afghanistan.
But the money doesn't come without conditions, and Pakistan, while eager for the funds to shore up its faltering economy and develop its ability to counter insurgents, is honing a list of questions that highlight significant differences over the right way to combat al-Qaida and its growing band of regional allies, officials and analysts say.
Holbrooke, Washington's special representative for the region, is expected in Islamabad on Monday, the first high-level US visitor since Obama labeled Pakistan's border region "the most dangerous place in the world" for America because of the terrorists it houses, "almost certainly" including Osama bin Laden.
But Obama has warned that the pledge of $7.5 billion in civilian aid over five years will only be forthcoming if Pakistan demonstrates its commitment to uprooting al-Qaida and other violent extremists comments that have done nothing for the often-strained relationship.
Islamabad points out the hundreds of Pakistani troops killed by militant attacks or in a series of ill-fated operations along the Afghan border since Pakistan dropped its support for the Taliban in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
"We have sacrificed much more than they have sacrificed," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Thursday. "We have sacrificed our soldiers. We have sacrificed our economy. What else do they want?" What Washington says it wants is better cooperation from Pakistan's powerful but reluctant security establishment, especially the pivotal Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
After months of leaks to US newspapers, Holbrooke, US Adm Mike Mullen and other American officials have in the past week gone public with allegations that the ISI has sustained links with and perhaps secretly aided some militant groups, a charge vehemently denied by Islamabad.
There also seems little doubt that Washington expects stepped-up Pakistani military operations this year to complement those by the expanding American forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is accompanying Holbrooke, meaning the American delegation is likely to face the skepticism of Pakistan's military as well as of its political leaders.
The US Embassy in Islamabad declined to give any details, citing security concerns. The two US officials were in Kabul on Sunday.
Asif Ali Zardari, the pro-Western president atop Pakistan's year-old civilian government, has described Obama's aid pledge as "an endorsement of our call for economic and social uplift as a means to fight extremism."
More precisely, the American money, and billions more expected from other donors meeting in Tokyo on April 17, will help avert a sharper deterioration in an inflation-ridden economy from which many foreign investors have fled in the face of the violence and political uncertainty.
Analysts say discussion of up to $3 billion in aid over the same period to boost Pakistan's counterinsurgency forces will also go down well. As well as boosting the army, the new package will "build up the paramilitary and police forces, which is quite critical to holding areas that the military clears," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the US-based Atlantic Council.
David Petraeus, the four-star general overseeing the US war effort in Afghanistan, last week encouraged Congress to approve the aid package quickly, saying it would help persuade Pakistan of America's long-term commitment reducing the temptation for Pakistan to hedge its bets in case of US and NATO failure in Afghanistan.
But that hope is eroded by the yet-to-be-elaborated conditions attached to the promised financial assistance and the fact that Washington has yet to explain how it plans to measure Pakistan's performance.
"There are some aspects of the new policy that we would ask the U.S. to elaborate and others where we would hope for some modification," said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States.
A senior Pakistani official, who agreed to elaborate on the points of contention only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues, went further.
"We think they (the Americans) should decide once and for all if they want a strategic relationship or a transactional relationship," he said.
The official said Pakistan still believes the Afghan government needs to be rebalanced in favor of ethnic Pashtuns, the group from which the Taliban draws its major strength and a major constituency in Pakistan as well.
Obama has ruled out reconciliation with an "uncompromising core" of Taliban leaders. But the Pakistani official said that stance should soften perhaps after a successful summer military campaign in which the US strengthens its bargaining position to secure long-term stability in the two countries.
Some doubt Washington's ability to push Pakistan beyond a certain point. "We can't buy Pakistan's support for our goals rather than supporting their goals," said Carl Levin, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee.
"We should not tie Afghanistan's future totally to the success of efforts in Pakistan or to Pakistan's governmental decisions." With Holbrooke, Pakistan says it will again object to a campaign of CIA missile strikes that Washington says has killed a string of top militant leaders in Pakistan's border region.
Pakistan says the tactic is counterproductive because it fans anti-American sentiment and undermines its own efforts to woo relative moderates among the militants.
The Pakistani government, which must pay more heed to public opinion than Zardari's authoritarian predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, also faces rising protests orchestrated by pro-Taliban religious parties.
Maulana Fazlur Rahman, whose Islamist party controls religious schools along the frontier and is a partner in the federal government, said Friday that Pakistan should cut US and NATO supply lines that pass through the country to Afghanistan if the missile attacks continue.
"Why are their supplies passing through Pakistan and our own people's chests are being hit and there is a rain of fire over our brothers and over our territory?" Rahman said. "We see our motherland disgraced every day."
Talat Masood, a former Pakistani general, said the government faces a daunting task to prepare the ground for another army offensive in the un-policed tribal belt along the Afghan border.
"The leadership is weak, and I'm not so sure whether it will be in a position to mobilize both the parliament as well as the people of Pakistan" for an offensive, Masood said.
"There will also be fallout on the cities in the form of terrorism. When you are fighting insurgencies, the fallout is terrorism."
After eight years of violence that has only gotten worse, ordinary Pakistanis are deeply skeptical of America's sincerity, and whether they will ever see the benefit of the promised civilian aid.
"The Americans are talking about military action and attacks in the area, so how will it be possible to carry out development activities?" said Mohammed Ali, a 42-year-old grocer in the northwestern city of Peshawar. "There is a contradiction. It would be better to find a peaceful way to solve this problem."
First Published: Apr 05, 2009 22:34 IST