WASHINGTON: The White House said on Sunday that it’s withholding some $800 million in military aid to Pakistan while the Pentagon said that Islamabad was cutting back its ties to the US defence establishment.
The $800 million is about a third of the annual US security aid to Pakistan. In the 2010-11 budget, Pakistan set aside $6.41 billion for defence expenditure, an increase of $1.27 billion from the previous year.
Diplomatic observers in Washington say that while the US cut will hurt Pakistan, it is unlikely to persuade the Pakistani military to follow Washington’s instructions, as it appears willing to downgrade its ties with the United States.
In an unusual statement last month, the Pakistani military asked the United States to divert most of its aid to civilian sectors.
And on Sunday, the Pentagon sent a statement to some US news outlets, noting that the Pakistani military also had requested a “significant cutback” of US military trainers and had limited the ability of US personnel to obtain visas.
The two moves follow a series of statements from Washington indicating that the US-Pakistan relationship, which began eroding with the arrest in January of a CIA contractor, had reached a new low.
On Sunday, 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 which we’re giving to the military”.
Mr Daley acknowledged that the May 2 raid in Abbottabad, which killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, had caused new strains in bilateral ties but defended the US action.
“Obviously there’s still a lot of pain that the political system in Pakistan is feeling by virtue of the raid that we did to get Osama bin Laden,” he said, but President Obama “felt strongly” about the raid and “we have no regrets over” it.
Speaking on ABC’s This Week programme, Mr Daley accepted that Pakistan had been “an important ally in the fight on terrorism. They’ve been the victim of enormous amounts of terrorism”.
But he also said that “it’s a complicated relationship in a very difficult, complicated part of the world”. This relationship, he added, “must be made to work over time” and “until we get through these difficulties, we’ll hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give them”.
“Some $800 million?” asked the anchor, Christiane Amanpour. “Yep,” said Mr Daley.
The anchor reminded the White House aide that when President Barack Obama came to power, he said he would bring Pakistan to the table with more aid. “Has that policy failed, and is there a change of policy now?” she asked. “It’s not changed. It’s not failed. The truth of the matter is, our relationship with Pakistan is very complicated and we’re trying to work through that.”
Reflecting on this relationship, the Pentagon hoped that the strains were temporary and the situation would soon improve.
“While the Pakistani military leadership tells us this is a temporary step, the reduced presence of our trainers and other personnel means we can’t deliver the assistance that requires training and support to be effective,” said the statement sent to some US news outlets.
Masood Haider adds from New York: The New York Times reported earlier that the suspension of aid showed Washington’s anger at the expulsion of US military trainers and to pressure Pakistan to step up its fight against militants.
Some of the suspended aid had been earmarked as compensation for Pakistan’s redeployment of troops in Fata to fight militants. Other cuts were in military equipment, the newspaper said. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned last month that the United States could slow down US military aid to Pakistan unless it took unspecified steps to combat extremists.
In another sign of strained relations, US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen suggested last week that the Pakistani government had “sanctioned” the killing in May of journalist Saleem Shahzad.
Mr Shahzad was kidnapped near his home in Islamabad. His body was found two days later in Mandi Bahauddin.
In a July 8 editorial, The New York Times claimed that there was evidence of complicity by the ISI in sheltering Bin Laden, of ties to the Mumbai attacks and of involvement in the abduction and murder of Mr Shahzad.
The editorial also called for the removal of ISI chief Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha.
The army’s press office reacted angrily to the editorial, calling it a “direct attack” on Pakistan’s security and a bid to weaken Pakistan.