Aid Cut Reflects Downward Spiral in US-Pakistan Relations
The storm clouds were gathering for some time and now came have the first precipitation. The United States is withholding a third of the military assistance package to Pakistan, that is the sum of $800 million. Relations between the countries were problematic ever since the US Seal operation took out Osama bin Laden in what was a Pakistani garrison town, creating the inescapable conclusion that the arch terrorist had benefited from high level protection.
The Washington Post recently carried an op-ed by the former ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalizidad who advised the United States to calibrate its assistance in line with Pakistani cooperation and should such cooperation not be forthcoming then:
The United States should curb military assistance; mobilize coordinated financial pressure against Pakistan through allies and the IMF; and expand military operations against insurgent and terrorist targets in Pakistan.
If Khalizidad could be excused as a Bush administration retread, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was clearly speaking for the administration. Mullen asserted that Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad was tortured and murdered by official Pakistani bodies while he was investigating Islamic extremist penetration of the Pakistani Armed Forces.
Citing two unnamed Obama administration officials, the New York Times last week attributed the murder to Pakistan's military intelligence- the all-powerful ISI Inter Service Intelligence.
New defense chief Leon Panetta, till recently head of the CIA, has omitted Pakistan from his itinerary while visiting neighboring Afghanistan. Similarly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting India for two days but will not balance it with a visit to Pakistan.
The first visit by a middle level official is scheduled for four weeks down the road.
The United States is not looking for a total break and Obama's chief of stall Bill Daley tried to strike a middle ground while speaking yesterday to ABC network's This Week "Pakistan been an important ally in the fight on terrorism." However, Pakistan has now "taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid which we're giving to the military, and we're trying to work through that."
After the decision was reached, Pakistan reacted nonchalantly, claiming that it could pursue its military operations without foreign assistance. Alternatively it claimed that Chinese assistance could offer a substitute for American assistance. As for the charges by Admiral Mullen, if the US had information regarding a criminal case, it was requested to pass it on to the Pakistani judicial authorities.
In the United States as well, there were those who questioned the efficacy of the signal either because the United States on its way out from Afghanistan, needed Pakistan more than Pakistan needed the United States, or because the military as the most popular institution in Pakistan was virtually unassailable.
However, the resentments against Pakistan in the United States Congress, not only on security grounds but also for the persecution of Christians, would have made it equally difficult to carry on business as usual.