Thursday, January 6, 2011

The blunt weapon may refuse to be used bluntly this time….


In the wake of strained relations between intelligence outfits of both USA and Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari is visiting Washington next week where US administration officials seek to put pressure on Islamabad to pursue militants. Reuters has reported that President Zardari will deliver a eulogy at a memorial service on January 14 for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the veteran U.S. diplomat who was President Barack Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke died last month. Due to security situation in Pakistan, President Zardari was unable to join funeral prayers of his slain governor Salman Taseer who was assassinated on January 4, 2011. The visit comes several weeks after Obama and other top officials publicly chided Pakistan for not acting quickly enough to eradicate Islamist militants within its borders who attack U.S.-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

According to the report, experts warn against pushing Pakistan too hard as it grapples with its own political turmoil and internal threats. Pakistani worries that the United States could leave behind an unstable Afghanistan allied with arch-foe India add another strain to a relationship that has been jolted by significant ups and downs over the past decade. Pakistan is on edge this week after the assassination of a senior ruling party member and the breakdown of a leading political coalition that pushed Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's government to the brink of collapse. But concerns in Washington are focused around Pakistan's willingness to go after the Afghan Taliban and other militants who launch attacks from along its rugged western border.

Pakistanis like to say Americans do not fully appreciate the difficulty their soldiers would face if they waded into a messy battle with militants in North Waziristan or the delicacy of support for the country's fragile civilian government. For many Pakistanis, it is difficult to forget the turmoil that followed when the United States turned away from the region after the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"The United States has a pretty solid track record of using Pakistan as a blunt instrument and (then) skipping town," Reuters quote one former White House official as saying. "Why would the Pakistanis think this wouldn't happen this time?"

U.S. military and social assistance to Pakistan has soared as Washington's attention has turned from Iraq to Afghanistan over the past few years. For fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration has requested more than $3 billion for programs that would equip Pakistani soldiers and fund education and health programs, as well as other sectors. That is a huge jump from 2008, when U.S. aid was just $741 million. 

In return, Pakistan has taken steps to comply with U.S. wishes, shifting troops from its eastern border with India, its chief security preoccupation, to its border with Afghanistan. Pakistan has permitted the United States to dramatically increase the tempo of pilotless drone strikes on militant hide-outs, risking a backlash from Pakistanis who see such attacks as a violation of their sovereignty. But attempts to cooperate are not always easy. A U.S. offer to provide unarmed surveillance drones to Islamabad has become a new source of friction, with Pakistan privately voicing concern about what it says are exorbitant prices and a slow delivery timeline.

But the past year has also seen a number of notable points of friction, including a cross-border incursion by U.S.-led NATO forces that prompted Pakistan to temporarily close a key crossing and U.S. suspicions that Pakistani intelligence leaked the identity of the top U.S. spy in Pakistan. U.S. intelligence sources say bilateral intelligence ties are extremely strained as Washington grapples with reports that elements of Pakistani intelligence are tacitly backing the militants.

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