United States military aid for Pakistan, one of the top priority programs of the Carter administration a few weeks ago, has been delayed indefinitely amid growing indications that Pakistan is not interested.
The military regime of President Zia ul-Haq has made it clear it would like as much United States economic help as it can obtain, according to administration officials. But it has made clear that it is bitterly dissatisfied with the amount of military aid Washington is offering.
Recent signals from Islamabad, including a statement by foreign affairs chief Agha Shahi and a broadcast on the state radio, has emphasized Pakistan's determination to keep its "non-aligned" status and thus to keep its distance militarily from the United States.
Although no definite decision has been transmitted, several administration officials read the private and public signals from Islamabad as suggesting that Washington's military aid offers are too low in benefits -- and too high in political costs -- to be acceptable.
U.S. economic and military aid was cut off in April 1979 because of Pakistan's drive to build a secret uranium enrichment plant capable of making atomic bomb material. In a swift policy reversal at the turn of the year, immediately following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the Carter administration decided to ask Congress to lift the ban on aid to Pakistan even though the atomic weapons program continues.
The U.S. aid proposals, heavily influenced by the Office of Management and Budget, were $100 million in economic aid and $100 million in military sales loans in fiscal year 1980 and the same amounts in fiscal 1981 -- a total $400 million over two years. The sums leaked to the press prematurely. Zia huffily called them "peanuts."
President Carter spoke of the Pakistan aid program in his State of the Union address Jan. 23, telling Congress that a formal request for aid and U.S. reassurance "will come to you in just a few days." When Pakistan continued to be unenthusiastic, Carter sent his foreign affairs adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and other high U.S. officials to Islamabad Feb. 1-4.
Brzezinski told Zia the United States would not up the ante for 1980 and 1981, though he reportedly suggested that more money might be forthcoming in future years. Far from satisfied, Zia asked the U.S. team to withhold its planned program until he could find out what others will contribute and what Pakistan will do.
The United States informed Pakistan several weeks ago that it must have a decision quickly if the fiscal year 1980 funds were to be included in an appropriation measure in the final stage of conference consideration. Pakistan was unwilling to move, and the bill was finished without this money. It is now increasingly uncertain that funds for Pakistan can be added at a later stage of the congressional session.
Pakistan is asking for about $1.5 billion yearly in economic aid from a variety of sources, including the United States. An existing economic consortium contributes about $700 million yearly. Aid from Persian Gulf sheikdoms brings the expectable total to about $1 billion yearly. The United States is seeking to put the arm on its European allies for new contributions, with limited success.
Zia wants enough military equipment to create three or four new divisions on the northwest frontier with Afghanistan. Rough estimates of the cost are in the $2 billion-$3 billion range.
The United States had offered to supply transport, communications and warning gear, including helicopters and radars. Pentagon officials deny they offered to sell high performance fighters, which Pakistan wants. In any case, $100 million in military sales loans does not go far toward purchase of major equipment.
Following the Brzezinski mission, the United States offered to send a military team to study Pakistan's air defense needs -- but Islamabad said it was not convenient. Since then, the Pentagon has offered to send a team, at Pakistani expense, to study repair of the country's aging M48 tanks. There has been no reply from Islamabad.