The United States has decided to withhold a third of its annual $2.7 billion security assistance to Islamabad after Pakistan ordered dozens of military trainers to leave Pakistan and limited visas to US personnel following the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. In large part, Pakistan’s response has been that it doesn’t care about the aid cutback and that Pakistan is capable of fighting terrorism using indigenous resources and has carried out several successful military operations in the tribal regions without external help. This was certainly the message reiterated by Gen Kayani at the latest corps commanders conference on Tuesday. Despite Washington’s punitive move to withhold military assistance, the Pakistan Army has announced it will not reverse its crackdown against the American footprint in the country. On its part, Washington is hitting back against what it thinks is a continuing relationship between the Pakistani military and Afghan insurgents and other militant groups, as well as Pakistan’s refusal to go after the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. “No more blank cheques,” is the US message.
Given that elections are drawing closer in the US, it makes sense for the Obama administration to want to tell the American public it will not allow Pakistan to continue with its alleged double game in Afghanistan and with regard to militant jihadists. However, if the US needs Pakistan, which it clearly does, especially as it plans to scale down its troop presence in neighbouring Afghanistan, it makes little sense to take this action at this time. Such moves will leave the US with less, not more, influence with the Pakistani military. Most importantly, the US needs to understand that that it cannot bully Pakistan into submission. Cooperation cannot be coerced by punitive actions. The right approach would be for the US to formalise a mechanism for joint operations against high value targets. It is thus a positive move that the ISI chief has decided to travel to the US this week and is expected to discuss intelligence coordination. In Pakistan, the US move to withhold aid will turn public opinion more caustic and delay any large-scale campaign against militants, especially Al-Qaeda targets. It will also hurt Pakistan’s economy if Washington holds back on the $300 million of the Coalition Support Fund. These reimbursements, for money already spent on military operations, go into the general treasury and withholding them will definitely damage Pakistan’s finances at a time when they are already under immense strain.