The U.S. is withholding about $800 million in military aid to Pakistan over actions by the nuclear-armed country since the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, said White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.
“They’ve 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,” Daley said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” program. “Until we get through these difficulties, we’ll hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give.”
The countries’ relationship is “at its low point” following the May 2 U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaeda leader in a Pakistani army garrison town, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with the U.S. military-affairs website This Week in Defense News that was broadcast yesterday.
In those 10 weeks, Pakistan has arrested an army major for allegedly helping the Central Intelligence Agency target bin Laden, according to U.S. officials cited by the New York Times and other newspapers, and has expelled more than 100 U.S. military personnel.
Criticism of the Pakistani military by U.S. officials cited by the Times amounts to “a direct attack” on Pakistan’s security, its armed forces spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, said in an interview two days ago, Reuters reported.
Anger and Humiliation
The aid cutoff may deepen “a feeling of anger and humiliation” that political analyst and retired Pakistani army Lieutenant General Talat Masood says has grown. Tensions have risen steadily since January, when a CIA contract employee, Raymond Davis, shot dead two Pakistani men he said were trying to rob him in Lahore.
“We have not received any formal intimation or letter from the U.S. informing us” of a decision to withhold aid, Abbas said by phone to Bloomberg News. He said Pakistan’s operations against Taliban guerrillas in the country’s northwest will be unaffected because the country has conducted them since 2009 “without any external support whatsoever.”
The New York Times, which reported the deferral of military aid earlier, said the amount being withheld represents more than a third of the $2 billion in security assistance given to Pakistan. It includes about $300 million to cover some of the costs of posting more than 100,000 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border as well as training assistance and military hardware, the newspaper reported.
A full description of the U.S. assistance on hold is classified, said Navy Captain John Kirby, a spokesman for Mullen. Night-vision devices, helicopter spare parts, radios, and equipment to counter guerrilla-made bombs are delayed because Pakistan is withholding visas for U.S. personnel required to assist with them, Kirby said in an e-mail yesterday.
Since the bin Laden raid by U.S. Navy commandos, American officials have questioned whether some in the Pakistani military were helping to hide the al-Qaeda leader, and whether Pakistan’s investigation of the incident may be aimed more at those who might have helped the U.S. find him. The U.S. didn’t notify the Pakistani government before the raid out of fear that someone might tip off bin Laden.
“Obviously, there’s still a lot of pain that the political system in Pakistan is feeling by virtue of the raid,” Daley said.
Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan told reporters today the “hold” on funds was not a symbolic gesture but “directly tied to those decisions to curtail training and to not grant visas for some of the personnel we need to get in.”
“If those things change, than this aid will change as well,” Lapan said. The U.S. personnel are needed to provide training and “we don’t provide one without the other. That’s been the case and should be the case going forward.”
Another irritant in relations is Pakistan’s covert support for the Taliban and allied groups fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, say analysts such as Imtiaz Gul, chairman of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. “Pakistan is tied in to these groups because it wants to use them to gain influence over Afghanistan in coming years,” and thus block its foe, India, from gaining sway there, Gul said by telephone last week.
Mullen said April 20 that Pakistan’s main military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, still “has a longstanding relationship” with a Taliban faction led by Jalaluddin Haqqani that a recent Defense Department report called “the most significant threat” to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan.
U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said in May the U.S. should curtail more than $1 billion in annual economic aid to Pakistan unless the Islamabad government stops harboring groups such as Haqqani’s.
Mullen said July 7 there are indications that suggest the Pakistani government sanctioned last month’s abduction and killing of Saleem Shahzad, 40, a journalist who had written about the infiltration of the military by militants.
Daley echoed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement last month that U.S. interests give it no option but to work with Pakistan. “The Pakistani relationship is difficult, but it must be made to work over time,” Daley said on ABC.
Pakistan has been “an important ally in the fight on terrorism,” he said.
Editors: Ann Hughey, Carlos Torres