Pakistan Wants More Aid, Cooperation From U.S.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Inside the warm welcome and promises of a "new beginning" that Pakistan extended U.S. special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke yesterday was a warning that Pakistan expects more from the United States in return for its cooperation against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Statements issued by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani after meeting with the envoy, who is in Islamabad on the first stop of a regional tour, emphasized the need to "expedite" a new, multi-billion dollar U.S. aid package, and "the importance of enhanced cooperation in defense and intelligence sharing."
Holbrooke said only that he was there "to listen and learn the ground realities of this critically important country."
The visit is the first step in what the Obama administration sees as a complex and delicate effort to stabilize Pakistan's civilian democracy even as it strengthens the Pakistani military and brings it more in synch with U.S. counterterrorism goals in the region, including the war effort in Afghanistan. Although his writ does not officially extend beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan, Holbrooke will also visit India as the administration tries to improve Pakistan-India relations and allay the tension between the two nuclear powers.
The administration is formulating a more regional strategy it hopes will arrest the deterioration in the seven-year Afghan war and allow it to move more aggressively against al-Qaeda. But while administration officials said the strategy will acknowledge Pakistan's crucial role, they said that developing a new relationship with Islamabad is likely to be a years-long process, with intertwined challenges making it time-consuming and costly.
"Not having patience makes all the sense in the world in terms of the Afghanistan threat," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said in a recent interview. But in Pakistan, he said, "there is not a quick answer," and any new U.S. strategy will have to "recognize the tension" between near- and far-term objectives.
The next step, U.S. and Pakistani officials said, will be a visit to the United States later this month by Pakistani army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani. In late 2007, Kiyani replaced Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who also served as Pakistan's president under the military government that took over in a 1999 coup that led to congressional restrictions on U.S.-Pakistani military contacts.
Since last year, senior U.S. military officials have assiduously courted Kiyani as the key to making up lost ground in the relationship and persuading the Pakistani military to turn its attention away from the perceived threat from India and toward extremist sanctuaries on the Afghan border.
Pakistan's weak civilian government is doing its own balancing act. The Pakistani public is increasingly anti-American and Zardari's political opponents charge that he is too close to Washington. Increased U.S. military and civil assistance, the government has argued, will improve Pakistan's counterterrorism performance, make it easier to cooperate with U.S. goals, and ensure the survival of the civilian government.
Kiyani will press existing requests for increased military aid in several categories, including Cobra attack helicopters, night vision equipment, and equipment to jam extremist radio transmissions, intercept satellite telephone communications, and improve communication among Pakistani military units in the extremist-ridden mountains of the western Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA. Pakistan would also like at least to "be in the room" when targeting decisions for CIA aerial drone attacks in the FATA are made, a senior Pakistani official said.
Pakistan also wants more funding stability and recognition of the leading role it plays in U.S. counterterrorism campaigns. "We are a front-ranked state," the official said. "We want government money to come in the same way it is given to Afghanistan and Iraq." Congressional funding for war and development costs in those countries has been approved outside of normal budgetary channels through supplemental appropriations subject to fewer restrictions.
Mullen cited a number of positive steps Kiyani has taken, including: replacing the former head of Pakistan's intelligence service, who was widely mistrusted by the CIA, with a close army ally; appointing a new chief for the Frontier Corps, the local force in the FATA; and doubling Frontier Corps salaries.