July 16 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistan plans to seek continued U.S. aid to help pay for its battle against terrorist groups in its northwestern provinces after American combat forces leave neighboring Afghanistan in 2016.
Pakistan expects to keep about 150,000 troops in North Waziristan until about 2017, even after its current operation to flush out terror groups in the area is completed, a Pakistani defense official said in an interview in Washington.
Since the Pakistani troop presence in the border region is intended to aid stability in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan plans to ask the U.S. to shoulder some of the costs in the form of a fixed annual sum because its economy is still weak, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a topic that’s still being negotiated.
Pakistan has received billions of dollars from the U.S. since 2002 as compensation for fighting terrorist groups within its borders, and the idea that it should receive more is shocking, said Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington and the author of “Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War.”
“That is the most outrageous thing I’ve heard,” Fair said in an interview. “They’re basically seeking compensation for stabilizing a border that the ISI is busy destabilizing.”
She was referring to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which U.S. intelligence officials say also supports Taliban groups, the Haqqani network and other militant groups that attack coalition troops in Afghanistan.
As of 2013, the U.S. had paid Pakistan $11 billion out of the Pentagon’s coalition support fund budget as reimbursement for the South Asian nation’s military efforts aiding U.S. counterterrorism operations. Including other military and economic aid, the U.S. has given Pakistan about $28 billion during the 12 years through 2014, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The U.S. is likely to acquiesce on the aid request because the Obama administration is concerned about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, Fair said.
“The Americans are very interested in helping Pakistanis do what they’re doing to kill the TTPs,” Fair said referring to members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has gone on an offensive against the Pakistani government. “We are paying them to mow the lawn even though they’re fertilizing other parts of the lawn” by aiding groups that attack coalition forces, she said.
The U.S. halted reimbursements for 2012 when Pakistan blocked NATO cargo transiting through the country to Afghanistan in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani border troops.
The supply routes remained shut for seven months and were reopened in July 2012 only after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “deepest regrets” for the accidental killings.
Since then, U.S. lawmakers have attached conditions to the annual reimbursement stipulating that the Pentagon must certify that Pakistan isn’t blocking supply routes and that it’s cooperating in counterterrorism efforts. Congress also gave the Pentagon and the State Department authority to seek waivers on national security grounds.
In August 2012, the State Department used that waiver authority to seek an exemption from certifying that Pakistan was cooperating on counterterrorism efforts, allowing for the reimbursements, according to the Congressional Research Service. It was the first time the Obama administration had sought such a waiver for Pakistan, according to the research service.
The Senate has proposed continued restrictions on reimbursements to Pakistan in the 2015 defense budget that’s being debated in Congress. A portion of the reimbursement for 2015 is not eligible for a waiver, and can be paid only if the U.S. defense secretary certifies that Pakistan has “undertaken military operations in North Waziristan that have significantly disrupted the safe haven and freedom of movement of the Haqqani network in Pakistan,” according to an amendment added by Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Pakistan’s military forces last month began a ground offensive to flush militants from that semi-autonomous tribal region on the Afghan border. It is an area -- roughly the size of Connecticut with about 700,000 residents -- that Michael Mullen, the U.S.’s former top military official, in 2010 called it the “epicenter of terrorism” and “where al-Qaeda lives.”
Despite months of warning the U.S. and other coalition troops in Afghanistan about the need to plug the border before Pakistan’s military operation, as many as 30,000 people from North Waziristan, including some militant-group leaders, are thought to have crossed into neighboring Afghanistan unchecked, the Pakistan official said.
Pakistan has used U.S.-made F-16 jets to bomb North Waziristan and today said it killed 35 militants in one such strike. Pakistani forces have captured several tons of improvised-explosive devices, or IEDs, and other crude bombs in the area, the Pakistan official said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Gopal Ratnam in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Walcott at email@example.com Terry Atlas