The Pakistan Army has said that the suspension of US aid would not affect its ongoing campaign against militants in the tribal areas after a senior White House official confirmed that Washington was withholding nearly $800 million, including military assistance, to the country.
White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley told ABC television that Pakistan had “taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid”.
But the Pakistan Army tried to downplay the development.
The chief military spokesman told The Express Tribune that any pause in US assistance would not hamper the ongoing offensives by the security forces against militants in the tribal areas.
“We have been doing these operations on our own in the tribal areas and we have sufficient resources to continue them,” insisted Major-General Athar Abbas, the Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
He added that the US had not yet “informed us in writing about the withholding of military assistance”.
“We have achieved success in the past against al Qaeda in South Waziristan, Bajur and other tribal regions without any external assistance,” he said.
However, Maj-Gen Abbas said the ongoing operations against al-Qaeda in the tribal regions were not only in the interest of Pakistan but also the US and the world at large.
“Al Qaeda is a common enemy of both Pakistan and the US,” he argued.
Military sources say the US announcement was not unexpected.
“These are pressure tactics,” said a military official. “They (Americans) may temporarily suspend our aid but in the long-run they cannot,” he emphasized.
The US is aware of the fact that Pakistan has a pivotal role to play in the endgame of Afghanistan, he added.
“The relationship is at standstill,” commented another military official, who requested not to be named.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has urged the United States to share intelligence about new al-Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri, after Defence Secretary Leon Panetta claimed that Osama Bin Laden’s successor was hiding inside the country’s tribal belt.
The request from the military appears to suggest that the two countries have yet to establish a mechanism for joint operation against “high value targets” in Pakistan.
Following the death of al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden in a US raid in May, Islamabad and Washington agreed to form a joint intelligence team to hunt down top al Qaeda operatives in the country.
Prior to his arrival in Kabul on Saturday, Defence Secretary Panetta asked Pakistan to go after al Zawahiri, who is believed to be in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
“We expect the US intelligence establishment to share available information and actionable intelligence regarding al Zawahari,” said the military spokesman in a statement reacting to Panetta’s demand.
Maj-Gen Abbas added that sharing of information on the new al Qaeda chief would enable the army to carryout targeted operations.
Widening trust-deficit between ISI and the CIA has undermined ties between the two countries.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2011.