Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pakistan-US Strategic Dialogue-Pakistan may get WOT-specific security aid ...

Pakistan has remained under immense pressure to enter its troops into North Waziristan Agency (NWA) to fight against and flush out those Afghan Taliban elements which, according to the US, use the area as a base to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan Army has already conducted similar operations in Swat and South Waziristan Agency (SWA) and is consolidating its gains before it decides to open yet another front. It is also committed in the relief operations after the recent floods. The USA has tried all the tactics including pressuring and arm-twisting to force Pakistan to commit its military assets in NWA. Pakistan has not refused but keeps the option to chose the timing itself. There was a debate in these pages on whether or not to enter SWA.

Plainly speaking, Pakistan should not hesitate to help a friend in need. However, the friend in need has a very unenviable track record of betrayals. Right now, Pakistan is practically engaged on two fronts and no one including the USA is prepared to guarantee that in case Pakistan’s forces fan out in the tribal area leaving eastern border inadequately guarded, India will not take any advantage of Pakistan’s force deployment. Almost no one in Pakistan has faith in the USA and no one will support acceptance of all the US demand given the fact that USA is now a strategic partner Pakistan’s arch-rival India. Those who do not understand the fine conceptual details of realist politics are convinced that a friend of your enemy can never be your friend.

As a sequel to it nuclear deal with India, while denying to Pakistan, USA is expected to arm and equip India massively when President Obama visits New Delhi early next month. And India is not arming without aiming, as Stephen Cohen would want us to believe. India has clear aims to contain China and brow-beat Pakistan on its own and on the USA’s behalf. And there are no strings attached to this arms deal. However, any military aid to Pakistan is tied to American purposes. Pakistan is holding strategic dialogue with the US and Wall Street Journal has reported that the Obama administration is planning to ramp up military support to the Pakistani army as part of an effort to persuade Islamabad to do far more to combat Islamic militants. Top U.S. policy makers, who are meeting with their Pakistani counterparts in Washington today, say they doubt Islamabad will agree in the near term to mount a major army campaign against al Qaeda-linked militants in their biggest sanctuary bordering Afghanistan. Instead, American officials are pushing Pakistan to agree to interim steps to increase pressure on the militant groups, such as by carrying out more targeted operations using U.S.-trained special operations units, according to officials close to the deliberations.

Islamabad is apparently willing to step up the current level of surgical strikes but a full-scale clearing operation in North Waziristan isn't possible because large numbers of its troops and equipment are being used to respond to recent devastating flooding, the country's worst yet, and are being used to rout militants from other areas. The new military aid, which is contingent on congressional approval, is expected to amount to more than $2 billion over five years, would pay for equipment Pakistan can use for counterinsurgency and counter-terror operations. U.S. officials say they hope the new aid could effectively eliminate Pakistan's objections that it doesn't have the equipment needed to launch more operations in tribal areas.

In a recent report to Congress, the White House said it believed the Pakistani military was avoiding direct conflict with the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda forces for political reasons. Despite the U.S. calls for a crackdown on the Haqqani network, some Pakistani officials continue to support the group, viewing it as a longtime ally that has steadfastly opposed Indian involvement in Afghanistan.

Pakistan received about $1.9 billion in military assistance from the U.S. in fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30, including about $300 million in grants to buy U.S. defense equipment. The new package of defense equipment would average out to an additional $100 million a year in aid, although the size of the grants would start lower and grow over time. By seeking assurances from Pakistan that the new equipment will be used only to combat militants in the border areas, the U.S. is desperate to reassure India that it isn't trying to further boost the power of Pakistan's conventional military.

Officials from both the U.S. and Pakistan rejected the notion that the military assistance and talks were a quid pro quo, arguing that they are trying to build a partnership, not cut a deal. U.S. officials, although they denied that the increased aid was part of an explicit deal to get Islamabad to mount a ground offensive in North Waziristan, said they hoped increased Pakistani military capabilities would translate into increased action on the ground. "It would seem natural that they could become more aggressive" in the tribal areas, said one American official. The U.S. trains Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps, as well as members of the country's regular army, air force and navy. In 2010 alone, more than 1,100 Pakistani special operations troops were trained by the U.S., according to a recent White House report to Congress.

U.S. officials hope that this week's talks also result in an agreement on ways to make joint border-control centers and intelligence fusion centers more effective. The border-control centers, most on the Afghan side, help Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. share information and coordinate cross-border operations. Intelligence fusion centers, most in Pakistan, share video feeds from drones and help develop target lists. U.S. and Pakistani officials also emphasized that if Washington pushes too much it could undermine recent progress and erode Islamabad's will to fight in the tribal areas. "This is our war now; that is the biggest achievement of the last two years," said a Pakistani official.

The new military aid, which would complement an existing five-year, $7.5 billion nonmilitary package approved last year, will require U.S. congressional approval. Key members of Congress, upset by Pakistan's inaction in North Waziristan and concerned about the Pakistani army's human-rights record in the tribal areas, could hold up part or all of the funding and impose conditions of their own. "There is a lot of skepticism," said one a senior aide of the sentiment in Congress. Islamabad remains skeptical of U.S. pressure to push into North Waziristan, playing down the region's importance as a safe haven for terrorists. Pakistan believes that importance of North Waziristan as a base for hardened Taliban fighters had been exaggerated by U.S. officials.

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