Pakistanis Balk at U.S. Aid Package
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The Obama administration's strategy for bolstering Pakistan's civilian government was shaken Wednesday when political opposition and military leaders there sharply criticized a new U.S. assistance plan as interfering with the country's sovereignty.
Although President Obama has praised the $7.5 billion, five-year aid program -- approved by Congress last week -- Pakistani officials have objected to provisions that require U.S. monitoring of everything from how they spend the money to the way the military promotes senior officers.
Their criticism threatens to complicate the administration's efforts in the region, where Pakistan's assistance is seen as crucial to the war in Afghanistan.
"Obviously, it demonstrates we've still got work to do," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said of the Pakistani criticism.
On Wednesday, Obama convened his top national security officials to discuss policy in Pakistan and its role in the developing strategy in Afghanistan. A senior administration official described the three-hour White House meeting, which coincided with the eighth anniversary of the Afghanistan war, as "a comprehensive update on the situation" in Pakistan, including an "intelligence and counterterrorism assessment, as well as an assessment of the political and diplomatic situation."
With Taliban attacks on U.S. and NATO forces planned and launched from within its borders, an al-Qaeda sanctuary in its tribal areas and a nuclear arsenal whose security is of international concern, Pakistan is the most strategically important country in the region.
When Obama concluded his first strategy review in March, he praised Pakistan's newly elected civilian government and proposed a sharp increase in military and civilian aid. Since then, the administration has tried to overcome decades of mistrust between the two countries, to calm Pakistan's fractious politics and prop up its faltering civilian institutions. U.S. military officials have carefully cultivated their counterparts in the country's politically powerful military, encouraging them to fight militants with whom they have long been allied and to submit to democratic rule.
The White House has been encouraged by the Pakistani government's decision to challenge the Taliban within its borders. The Pakistani army fought the Taliban this spring as the group pushed toward the capital, Islamabad. It then pursued the fighters into the Swat Valley. The army also has been preparing for a push into al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries along the border in South Waziristan. With the government's tacit approval, U.S. missile attacks launched from unmanned aircraft against high-value insurgent targets in the border area have brought what a senior administration official called "a real degradation of al-Qaeda."
As White House strategy sessions on Afghanistan began last week, administration officials contrasted what they described as a worsening situation there with a better-than-expected one in Pakistan, which has been rattled by one political crisis after another in recent years.
"Many in Washington were not prepared for this," one senior official said of Wednesday's outbursts in Islamabad.
A senior U.S. military official said that the relationship with Pakistan is "still positive" but that "we need to understand the sensitivities better." The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The Pakistani media reported mounting anger over the aid bill within the military on Tuesday, when Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief, met in Islamabad with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. The terms set in the bill were described as "insulting and unacceptable" by one publication. On Wednesday, the dispute was the subject of a special debate in the Pakistani Parliament.