Pakistan says it is 'satisfied' with U.S. pledges on aid delivery
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Pakistan said Wednesday that it was satisfied with U.S. pledges, made during a day-long strategic conference in Washington, to increase and streamline the delivery of military and economic aid and to "move from a relationship to a partnership."
"Today, I am a happy man and a satisfied man," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. "I'm satisfied because you finally agreed to many of the things that we've been sharing in our discussions over the last, you know, two years."
The Obama administration's primary goals for the gathering were to create a new level of bonding between the two countries and to win increased Pakistani cooperation in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
U.S. officials, aware of Pakistan's often-prickly response to perceived slights, were deferential to the Pakistanis and offered fulsome praise.
"We have listened, and we will continue to listen," Clinton said. "And we want to demonstrate by both word and deed our respect for Pakistan's concerns and ideas and share our own."
"It really has been extraordinary, in my view, seeing what Pakistan has done over the last, really, more than a year," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said of Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts targeting Taliban havens in the mountainous region along the Afghanistan border. Gates spoke Wednesday at a separate congressional budget hearing, along with Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Both men later attended the conference hosted by Clinton at the State Department. U.S. officials had hoped that the presence of Gates and Mullen would demonstrate by example the preeminence of civilian power over military power in the U.S. system, something the administration would like to see evolve in Pakistan's fragile democracy.
Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the powerful army chief of staff, was clearly the star of Pakistan's delegation, if not its official leader. At a Tuesday evening reception at the Pakistani Embassy, Kiyani's entry brought a hush to the crowd and the appearance of dozens of cellphone cameras, wielded by Pakistanis and Americans alike.
Although senior U.S. defense officials have privately hosted Kiyani numerous times over the past several days, in public, at least, he has taken a back seat to the civilians, Qureshi and Pakistan's little-known defense minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar.
Most of the agreements announced after the one-day meeting had been decided earlier, including disbursement of a new $7.5-billion, five-year U.S. aid package for Pakistan's energy, water, agricultural and education sectors. Long-standing Pakistani complaints about nearly $1 billion in promised but unpaid U.S. reimbursements for Pakistan's counterinsurgency operations had been largely resolved, with the remaining money to be paid by the end of June. The administration said that it would improve on what Pakistan has described as slow delivery of military hardware and that it would keep trying to facilitate better Pakistani access to U.S. markets and a transit trade arrangement with Afghanistan.
Pakistan arrived at the meeting with a 56-page list of "priorities," some of which, such as a civilian nuclear agreement similar to the one the United States has with India, were far beyond the scope of what the administration was prepared to give. Clinton merely said that she was happy to "listen and engage with our Pakistani partners on whatever issues the delegation raises."
"I'm particularly pleased that we are moving forward with $125 million to Pakistan for energy-sector projects," she added. Another U.S. goal, Clinton said, was a "multi-year security assistance package," similar to the five-year economic funding plan.
Clinton and Qureshi also deflected questions about the equally sensitive issue of Pakistan's ties with the Taliban and Islamabad's desire to play a prominent role in reconciliation talks with insurgents proposed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"It's their choice," Qureshi said of the Afghans. "If they feel we can contribute, if we can help, we'll be more than willing." He said he had invited Afghanistan's foreign minister to Pakistan "for a detailed discussion on the reintegration/reconciliation process."
Clinton demurred, saying, "I agree with what the foreign minister said."