This week U.S. President Barack Obama appeared to firmly link nearly $33 million in aid and other funding for Pakistan to Islamabad’s cooperation in securing the release of Shakil Afridi, the doctor who allegedly assisted the U.S. Special Forces operation to kill Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011.
Contained within the $1.1 trillion spending bill signed by Mr. Obama on Friday, which represents a bipartisan compromise to avert a government shutdown of the type witnessed last October, are also provisions to withhold the financial assistance until Secretary of State John Kerry certifies that Pakistan “is not supporting terrorist activities against U.S. or coalition forces in Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies are not intervening extra-judicially into political and judicial processes.”
The bill was passed by the House of Representatives with overwhelming support, by 359-67 votes on Wednesday and subsequently passed by the Senate with a similarly massive margin of support, 72-26 votes, on Thursday.
A measure that could have implications for terrorism affecting India was the provision calling for Pakistan’s cooperation with the U.S. “in counterterrorism efforts against the Haqqani Network, the Quetta Shura, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, al-Qaeda, and other domestic and foreign terrorist organisations, including… [preventing] them from basing and operating in Pakistan and carrying out cross border attacks into neighbouring countries.”
The bill’s provision relating to Dr. Afridi specifically notes, “Of the funds… made available for assistance for Pakistan, $33 million shall be withheld from obligation until the Secretary of State reports to the Committees on Appropriations that Dr. Shakil Afridi has been released from prison and cleared of all charges relating to the assistance provided to the U.S. in locating Osama bin Laden.”
The bill also imposed other conditions, including dismantling improvised explosive device networks, preventing the spread of nuclear-related material and expertise, issuing visas in a timely manner for U.S. visitors engaged in counterterror, assistance programmes, and Department of State operations, and providing humanitarian organisations access to detainees, internally displaced persons, and other Pakistani civilians affected by the conflict.
A related “secret measure” said to be included in the spending bill is the U.S. Congress’ attempt to restrict the Obama Administration’s plan to move control of the covert drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal belt from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Pentagon, numerous reports suggested.
The Washington Post reportedly quoted unnamed U.S. officials saying that a secret provision has been inserted into the classified annex in the $ 1.1 trillion budget bill that would preserve the spy agency’s role in lethal counterterrorism operations because “lawmakers feel the U.S. military might not be ready for precision drone strikes.”
The newspaper added that this provision represented “an unusually direct intervention by lawmakers into the way covert operations are run, impeding an administration plan aimed at returning the CIA’s focus to traditional intelligence gathering and possibly bringing more transparency to drone strikes.”
The conditionality imposed on aid to Pakistan also comes less than two weeks after the announcement of a forthcoming book by Robert Gates, former U.S. Defence Secretary, who is said to have argued, “every instance when we had provided a heads-up to the Pakistan military or intelligence services, the target was forewarned and fled…”
In the volume titled “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” Mr. Gates reportedly says “Although I would defend [Pakistan] in front of Congress and to the press to keep the relationship from getting worse -- and endangering our supply line from Karachi -- I knew they were really no ally at all.”