x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Pakistan secures $2bn arms aid from US

Washington wants results in campaign on Afghan Taliban, but Pakistan rejects requests to allow US military units to mount covert operations against Afghan militants and al Qa'eda in the borderlands.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, speak during the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue plenary session at the State Department in Washington yesterday.
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, speak during the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue plenary session at the State Department in Washington yesterday.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan and the United States agreed yesterday to a new US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) military aid programme after three days of dialogue that failed to produce specific public commitments by the Pakistanis to shut down Afghan Taliban factions based on their territory.

Over the past month, Pakistan has come under increasing pressure from Washington to launch military operations against Afghan Taliban factions and al Qa'eda operatives in the North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

In a report to Congress on October 4, Barack Obama, the US president, said Pakistan's reluctance to act against the Haqqani Network faction was a "political choice" rather than one based on the capacity constraints of its military, which it has often cited.

After the talks ended in Washington yesterday, Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said Pakistan had lost 30,000 civilians and 7,000 security personnel in its fight against terrorists, more than Nato has lost in its invasion of Afghanistan.

"It seems easy to dismiss Pakistan's contribution," he said. "There are still tongue-in-cheek comments, even in this capital, about Pakistan's heart not really being in this fight. I do not know what greater evidence to offer than the blood of our people."

He did, however, seek to address reports about westerners training in terrorist camps in North Waziristan in preparation for attacks in the United States and Europe.

This month the CIA vastly increased the number of missile attacks launched from Predator drones on terrorist targets in both North Waziristan and South Waziristan, apparently in response to that specific threat.

The United States does not officially acknowledge the drone programme.

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan would not allow terrorist groups based in the tribal borderlands to "become a threat to people in other countries".

He also sought to distance his government from the perception in Washington and other Nato capitals that it categorised militant groups according to whether or not they supported Pakistan's strategic goals in Afghanistan and South Asia.

"There can be no differentiation between good and bad terrorists," he said.

Mr Qureshi's statement was a reiteration of Islamabad's position. So was his call for better co-ordination with the US on counter-terrorism operations on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and to work together for a solution in Afghanistan.

Similarly, he rejected repeated urging, in private, by the Obama administration to allow US military units to mount covert operations against Afghan militants and al Qa'eda based in the borderlands.

Mr Qureshi, repeating a phrase he has consistently uttered at public engagements in Washington, said: "Pakistan's territorial sovereignty is not negotiable."

Speaking first, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, steered clear of any comment about Islamabad's counter-terrorism strategy or other political differences between the strategic partners, except to acknowledge the loss of Pakistani lives.

Her announcement of the military aid programme was limited to its five-year duration, starting 2012, and $2 billion cost, with the added provision that it required approval from Congress.

Instead, she focused on the wider substance of the three-day dialogue, involving 13 sector-specific "working groups" of officials, 10 of which finalised plans for funding under the civilian aid programme.

"There is much to celebrate in the Pakistan-US friendship. It bodes well for both countries," she said. "But let us not forget that we are once again engaged as partners in a momentous challenge, a momentous struggle. I would call it the defining struggle of our times.

"We are fighting an enemy that offers no quarter, obeys no law, and holds nothing sacred. We have both lost valuable lives."

The sensitivity of US officials is widely viewed as reflecting the Obama administration's determination to continue to woo Pakistan's support, rather than trying to coerce it.

However, analysts in Washington have predicted the passage of the military aid bill could be rocky, particularly if Mr Obama's Democrats lose their majority in the House of Representatives in November's elections.

The extent of Congress's say in the US-Pakistan relationship was marked on Thursday by press revelations that Patrick Leahy, a Democratic senator, had invoked legislation he championed in 1997 to block funding to Pakistani military units shown by a recent video to have carried out extra-judicial killings of terrorist suspects.

thussain@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Omar Karmi in Washington