US withholding millions in aid to Pakistan
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is suspending and, in some cases, canceling hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Pakistani military, in a move to chasten Pakistan for expelling American military trainers and to press its army to fight militants more effectively.
Coupled with a statement from the top American military officer last week linking Pakistan’s military spy agency to the recent murder of a Pakistani journalist, the halting or withdrawal of military equipment and other aid to Pakistan illustrates the depth of the debate inside the Obama administration over how to change the behavior of one of its key counterterrorism partners.
About $800 million in military aid and equipment, or over one-third of the more than $2 billion in annual American security assistance to Pakistan, could be affected, three senior United States officials said.
This aid includes about $300 million to reimburse Pakistan for some of the costs of deploying more than 100,000 soldiers along the Afghan border to combat terrorism, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in training assistance and military hardware, according to half a dozen congressional, Pentagon, and other administration officials who were granted anonymity to discuss the politically delicate matter.
“When it comes to our military aid,’’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a Senate committee last month “we are not prepared to continue providing that at the pace we were providing it unless and until we see certain steps taken.’’
American officials say they would probably resume equipment deliveries and aid if relations improve and Pakistan pursues terrorists more aggressively. The cutoffs do not affect any immediate deliveries of military sales to Pakistan, like F-16 fighter jets, or nonmilitary aid, the officials said.
While some senior administration officials have concluded that Pakistan will never be the kind of partner the administration hoped for when President Obama entered office, others emphasize that the United States cannot risk a full break in relations or a complete cutoff of aid akin to what happened in the 1990s, when Pakistan was caught developing nuclear weapons.
But many of the recent aid curtailments are clearly intended to force the Pakistani military to make a difficult choice between backing the country that finances much of its operations and equipment, or continuing to provide secret support for the Taliban and other militants fighting American soldiers in Afghanistan.
“We have to continue to emphasize with the Pakistanis that in the end it’s in their interest to be able to go after these targets as well,’’ Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told reporters on Friday en route to Afghanistan.
In private briefings to senior congressional staff members last month, however, Pentagon officials made clear that the administration was taking a tougher line toward Pakistan and seriously reassessing whether it could still be an effective partner in fighting terrorists.
“They wanted to tell us, ‘Guys, we’re delivering the message that this is not business as usual and we’ve got this under control,’ ’’ one senior Senate aide said.
Comments last week by Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also reflected a potentially more confrontational approach to Pakistan. Mullen became the first US official to publicly accuse Pakistan of ordering the kidnapping, torture, and death of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, whose mutilated body was found in early June.