The Obama administration is suspending and, in some cases, cancelling 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 behaviour of one of its key counterterrorism partners. 

 Altogether, 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.

Some of the curtailed aid is equipment that the United States wants to send but Pakistan now refuses to accept, like rifles, body armour and night-vision goggles that were withdrawn or held up after Pakistan ordered more than 100 trainers in the U.S. Special Forces to leave the country in recent weeks.

Some is equipment that cannot be set up, certified or used for training because Pakistan has denied visas to the American personnel needed to operate the equipment, including some surveillance gear, a senior Pentagon official said.

And some is assistance like the reimbursements for troop costs, which is being reviewed in light of questions about Pakistan's commitment to carry out counterterrorism operations. For example, the U.S. recently provided Pakistan with information about suspected bomb-making factories, only to have the insurgents vanish before Pakistani security forces arrived a few days later.

‘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”.

Non-military aid

American officials say they would probably resume equipment deliveries and aid if relations improve and Pakistan pursues terrorists more aggressively. The cut-offs do not affect any immediate deliveries of military sales to Pakistan, like F-16 fighter jets, or non-military aid, the officials said.

Pakistan's precise military budget is not known, and while the American aid cut-off would probably have a small impact on the overall military budget, it would most directly affect the counterinsurgency campaign.

While some senior administration officials have concluded that Pakistan will never be the kind of partner the administration hoped for when President Barack Obama entered office, others emphasize that the U.S. cannot risk a full break in relations or a complete cut-off 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.

A former Pakistani diplomat, Maleeha Lodhi, who served twice as Ambassador to the United States, said the Pentagon action was short-sighted, and was likely to produce greater distance between the two countries at a time when Washington needed Pakistan on many fronts.

“It will be repeating a historic blunder and hurting itself in the bargain by using a blunt instrument of policy at a time when it needs Pakistan's help to defeat al-Qaida and make an honourable retreat from Afghanistan,” she said.  — New York Times News Service

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