WASHINGTON: The US confirmed on Sunday that direct and indirect aid worth $800 million to the Pakistan Army had been withheld while Pakistani diplomats disclosed that a 10-point list had been given to the GHQ, compliance of which would determine how much and when the flow of money would restart.
The official confirmation came from the White House chief of staff who told a TV channel on Sunday that Washington was holding back the money after a major New York Times story revealed the military aid had been suspended.
The 10-point list was given some time back and diplomats said Pakistan had taken positive action on two points and had failed to act on another two while the rest of the demands were pending. The two points Pakistan complied with were providing access to US and CIA officials to the family of Osama bin Laden and allowing the US experts to visit and inspect the Abbottabad compound where Osama was killed and taken away.
The main point where Pakistan failed to comply was with the US demand to act against factories where explosive devices were being manufactured, delaying the matter so long that people involved in it managed to escape. All this happened while the US was watching these compounds through satellites.
The US action marks a new low in relations between the Obama Administration and the Pakistan Army, led by General Ashfaque Parvez Kayani. Diplomats in Washington do not see an early resolution of the situation.
Pakistani diplomats, however, gave a different explanation, saying the aid had not been “formally and officially” suspended but that “cheques were ready but had not been mailed to Rawalpindi.” They said the US action was kind of a warning since aid can only be suspended if the Congress so decides. “Only yesterday Ambassador Grossman asked Congress to approve aid for Pakistan for the next year,” a senior diplomat said.
The White House Chief of Staff, Tom Donilon, while confirming suspension of the aid, described the relations with Pakistan as “difficult” and that it “must be made to work overtime.”
“The Pakistani relationship is difficult, but it must be made to work overtime. Until we get through these difficulties, we’ll hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give,” he said.
“Yep”, Donilon told the ABC news channel in an interview when asked about The New York Times news about US suspension of aid to Pakistan. However, Donilon said the Obama Administration’s policy towards Pakistan had not changed, even though it has become more complex and complicated. “It’s not changed. It’s not failed, pardon me,” he said.
“The truth of the matter is, our relationship with Pakistan is very complicated. Obviously, they’ve been an important ally in the fight on terrorism. They have been the victim of enormous amounts of terrorism themselves. But right now they’ve taken some steps that have given us reason to pause some of the aid which we’re giving to the military, and we’re trying to work through that,” he said.
The New York Times had earlier reported that the Pak-US relationship needed to be improved and until then money will stop flowing to the Pakistani armed forces. Pakistani sources said the withheld money included $300 million in cash for reimbursement under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) while $500 million were in the form of equipment which the US had provided under the Pakistan Counter Insurgency Fund and had taken back from the Pakistan Army after US trainers were told to leave Pakistan following the Abbottabad raid and the reaction against it in Pakistan.
The NYT said the US action was to “chasten Pakistan for expelling American military trainers and to press its army to fight militants more effectively.” This was confirmed by senior Pakistani diplomats in Washington.
US officials quoted by the NYT and Pakistani diplomats both confirmed that the US wanted “a change of behaviour” in Pakistan. Diplomats in Washington said the US decision was a serious turn in Pak-US relations since the US had told Islamabad a longtime back that their relations were at a crossroads. “They need a behavioural change and want Pakistan to act like a civilised country, a serious country, not half like Libya, half like Syria or Saudi Arabia and then demand treatment as a friend and ally,” one diplomat said.
Pakistani diplomats have been repeatedly told by US officials about serious concerns, including a charge leveled at the highest level that anti-Americanism was being orchestrated officially, and lies were being spread through hate messages.
“We have been told there are thousands of Raymond Davises in Pakistan; we can accept the truth but where are these 1000s of Raymond Davises which the media has been accusing the US of sending to Pakistan? Why don’t you catch them,” Pakistani diplomats have heard senior US officials say many times.
The $800 million in military aid and equipment is almost one-third of the total US aid of over $2 billion. The NYT said some of the curtailed aid is equipment that the US wants to send but which Pakistan now refuses to accept, like rifles, ammunition, body armor and bomb-disposal gear that were withdrawn or held up after Pakistan ordered more than 100 Army Special Forces trainers to leave the country in recent weeks.
Pakistani diplomats said this equipment was for counter-terrorism efforts. Some equipment, such as radios, night-vision goggles and helicopter spare parts, which cannot be set up, certified or used for training because Pakistan has denied visas to the American personnel needed to operate the equipment, two senior Pentagon officials were quoted by the NYT as saying.
While Pakistani officials are not hoping for an early resumption, the NYT quoted US officials saying they would probably resume equipment deliveries and aid if relations improve and Pakistan pursues terrorists more aggressively. The cutoffs do not affect any immediate deliveries of military sales to Pakistan, like F-16 fighter jets, or non-military aid, the officials said.
According to the NYT, some American officials say Pakistan has only itself to blame, citing the Pakistani military’s decision to distance itself from American assistance in response to the humiliation suffered from the American commando raid in Abbottabad, that killed Osama bin Laden, as well as rising anger from midlevel Pakistani officers and the Pakistani public that senior military leaders, including Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the powerful Army chief of staff, are too accommodating of Americans.
But in private briefings to senior Congressional staff members last month, Pentagon officials made clear they were taking a tougher line toward Pakistan and reassessing whether it could still be an effective partner in fighting terrorists, the newspaper said. “They wanted to tell us, ‘Guys, we’re delivering the message that this is not business as usual and we’ve got this under control,’ “ one senior Senate aide said.
The decision to hold back much of the American military aid has not been made public by the Pakistani military or the civilian government. But it is well known at the top levels of the military, and a senior Pakistani official described it as an effort by the Americans to gain “leverage”.
The NYT quoted a former Pakistani diplomat, Maleeha Lodhi, who served twice as ambassador to the United States, saying the Pentagon action was shortsighted, and was likely to produce greater distance between the two countries. “It will be repeating a historic blunder and hurting itself in the bargain by using a blunt instrument of policy at a time when it needs Pakistan’s help to defeat Al Qaeda and make an honorable retreat from Afghanistan,” Ms. Lodhi said of the United States.
Washington imposed sanctions on Pakistan in the 1990s, and in the process lost influence with the Pakistani military, Ms. Lodhi said. Similarly, the Obama administration would find itself out in the cold with the Pakistani Army if it held up funds, she said.