The US decision to suspend approximately $800 million in aid to Pakistan is ‘punishment’ for Islamabad’s refusal to accept Washington’s demands seeking a permanent presence of American military personnel in all airbases of the country, according to military and intelligence officials.
The Pakistani military not only rejected the idea but also decided to expel all US military trainers in the country in retaliation for the May 2 raid on Abbottabad that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
The move, officials said, annoyed the Obama administration so much that it threatened to take a series of ‘punitive’ measures, including the suspension of aid in an effort to pursue Pakistan to reverse the decision.
Washington had asked Islamabad to agree to certain conditions following the Bin Laden debacle. Among other requests, the US administration was pushing for the right to maintain a permanent presence of its military officials on all airbases in Pakistan, even after the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
“They (Americans) want us to allow a certain number of uniformed officials on all airbases of the country,” said one security official, who requested not to be named since he was not authorised to speak on the subject.
However, the official would not give the exact number of military personnel the US was seeking to maintain permanently in Pakistan.
“The demand was resisted and rejected as it was too intrusive,” said another official. “The Bin Laden episode has provided us the opportunity to overcome our shortcomings.”
The US government, for its part, confirmed that demands were made, though it did not specify what those demands were.
“When it comes to our military assistance, we’re not prepared to continue providing that at the pace that we were providing it unless and until we see certain steps taken,” said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, defending the US decision to suspend military aid to Pakistan.
Sources said the security establishment had now realised just how freely the United States had been able to operate inside Pakistan before the May 2 incident and was keen on reducing it.
“The CIA has been able to penetrate too deep and there are even fears that it could make inroads into the country’s security establishment if steps are not taken to scale back their activities,” commented a military official.
He confirmed that, in the wake of Abbottabad raid, the security establishment had not only expelled US military trainers but also made efforts to ‘plug loopholes in our visa policy for American visitors.’
“We will not allow the kind of freedom under which the American officials and operatives were operating in the country,” the official said.
The US State Department spokesperson confirmed the new restrictions. She recalled that on May 25, Islamabad demanded that about 100 US advisers leave Pakistani soil, effectively halting military training, adding “we obviously can’t do that in an environment where Pakistan has asked our trainers to go.”
However, Pakistani military officials insisted that the US decision to withhold military aid would not affect the ongoing campaign against militants in what appears to be deliberate attempt to play down the development.
“The army in the past as well as the present has conducted successful military operations using its own resources without any external support whatsoever,” military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.
“It is unfair that the US is even holding back our reimbursements,” said a senior military official, referring to the fact that the United States government has not disbursed money from the Coalition Support Fund. He claimed the US owed Pakistan about $1 billion for services rendered during the previous fiscal year.
Yet despite the tensions, military sources say the two sides are making efforts to over their differences. US officials seem to concur with that view.
Nuland stressed Monday that “the United States continues to seek a constructive, collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan.”
India welcomes US aid freeze
India on Monday welcomed the United States’ decision to suspend $800 million worth of military aid to Pakistan.
“It is not desirable that this region had to be heavily armed by the US, which will upset the equilibrium in the region itself,” External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said, according to the Press Trust of India. “To that extent, India welcomes this step,” he said. India has generally accepted US aid for funding anti-terrorism operations in Pakistan, but has expressed concern in the past that the weapons could be turned against it.
“The US must take note of the fact that we are working in a very committed manner to normalise our relations with Pakistan,” Krishna told reporters in New Delhi. (With additional reporting by AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2011.