x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

US considers new military aid for Pakistan

Washington mulls potential new military aid for Pakistan, as it attempts to strike a balance as ties strengthen with India.

WASHINGTON // The United States plans a public show of support for uneasy war partner Pakistan on Friday, including potential new military aid as it tries to strike a balance with its growing ties to India.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead a third and final day of a "strategic dialogue" with Pakistan, an initiative by President Barack Obama's administration to demonstrate long-term assistance.

The talks have covered a broad range of issues, from energy assistance to flood relief, but also military equipment, a key concern for Pakistan's powerful army.

Yet The New York Times reported that the Obama administration will deny training and equipment to Pakistani army units believed to have killed hundreds of unarmed prisoners or civilians during anti-Taliban offensives.

The report came as Washington and Islamabad sought to smooth over the latest crisis in their tenuous relationship after NATO helicopters killed Pakistani troops along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Islamabad responded by blocking the main transit point for US war supplies.

The United States committed to a five-year, 7.5-billion-dollar package last year to build roads, schools and democratic institutions in Pakistan. The Pakistani military initially criticized the aid as foreign interference.

In March, Clinton said the United States would study a multi-year security assistance package for Pakistan. But any new announcement threatens to overshadow Obama's trip to Pakistan's nuclear-armed arch-rival India next month.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the United States did not see relations between the two neighbors, which have fought three full-fledged wars since independence in 1947, as a "zero-sum game."

"Just as we are committed to our relationship with Pakistan and we'll help as an ally and friend provide assistance to Pakistan, we are also a committed ally and friend of India, and we are in discussions with India about assistance," Crowley told reporters.

The Obama administration has voiced hope that India, the world's largest democracy, will become a top US global partner in the decades to come.

Pakistan has provided vital access for US forces in Afghanistan. India has begrudgingly accepted civilian aid to Islamabad but voiced fear that military assistance would be used against it.

In recent years, the United States has sought to smooth the two nations' ties. Obama met the Pakistani delegation to the dialogue Wednesday and promised to visit in 2011, but not on the sidelines of his first presidential trip to India next month.

US envoy Richard Holbrooke said Clinton had devoted more time to Pakistan than any other country and credited the efforts with easing distrust between the governments, if not the rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan.

"We believe that we have made a great deal of progress and we believe that that progress has reduced the threat to our homeland, while not eliminating it," the US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan said.

But he added: "We all recognize how much more has to be done."

Pakistan won US praise after it mounted an offensive against homegrown Taliban extremists who advanced perilously close to Islamabad last year.

But a White House report to Congress earlier this month stated bluntly that Pakistan had not confronted Afghanistan's Taliban, in what experts see as a bid by Islamabad to preserve influence over its northern neighbor.

US officials are also rattled by persistent unrest in the Muslim world's only declared nuclear power.

Around 3,740 people have been killed in suicide attacks and bomb explosions, blamed on homegrown Taliban and other Islamist extremist networks, since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad three years ago.

And on Friday alone, bomb attacks interrupted a three-month lull in violence, killing six Pakistani soldiers and three civilians in the unstable northwest, including worshippers at a mosque.

"When you say more has to be done, it is not just the United States telling Pakistan. It is Pakistan telling the United States as well," said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

He urged more cooperation on counterterrorism efforts he called a "strategic and moral imperative for us."

"I reiterate again -- Pakistan's sovereignty is and will remain non-negotiable," Qureshi added.