Spat over aid, border firing overshadows Kerry's South Asia trip

Published January 6, 2015
US Secretary of State John Kerry.—Photo by AP
US Secretary of State John Kerry.—Photo by AP

NEW DELHI: Reports of a $500-million Washington aid package to Pakistan and a period of intense border shelling in Kashmir have overshadowed the run-up to US Secretary of State John Kerry's expected visit to South Asia in the next few days.

Kerry is due to attend an investment summit promoted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the weekend, and media reports say he will then travel to Islamabad.

President Barack Obama will make a second official trip to India later in the month, seeking to strengthen ties between the world's two largest democracies.

Despite Modi and Obama's well-publicised chemistry at talks in Washington last year, renewed friction between South Asia's nuclear-armed neighbours is a reminder of underlying anger in New Delhi at US support for its arch-rival.

“This may be a bit of a sobering moment for those who thought we might see a blooming of the relationship,” said Harsh Pant, professor of international relations at King's College London.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947, and Washington's financial support to Pakistan's military and government is a constant irritant in New Delhi, where Kerry is widely seen as pro-Pakistan.

Anger over aid

Pakistan announced last week that the US ambassador had said a request had been made to Congress for a $532 million aid payment under an act co-authored by Kerry in 2009. Washington denied that on Monday.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said no request had been made to US Congress for a payment under the act, which requires Pakistan to cease support for extremist groups such as the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Read more: No Kerry-Lugar fund for Pakistan since 2013: US

However, she said other funds were available to Pakistan.

In 2009, under the Kerry-authored act, the United States agreed to give an annual $1.5 billion to Pakistan, and in 2013 handed over the cash under a waiver despite what critics said was a lack of progress in countering militancy.

Funding for 2014, the last year of the four-year plan, has not yet been released, Psaki said.

Washington has for years been trying to encourage a rapprochement between India and Pakistan.

'War-like'

In the disputed region of Kashmir, thousands have fled their homes as fighting between India and Pakistan spread along a 200-km (124-mile) border stretch. At least 10 people have been killed since Dec. 31.

Tensions have been high since Modi called off peace talks in August, and border clashes have erupted intermittently since.

The Pakistan foreign ministry has accused India of “unprovoked firing and targeting of civilians.”

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