Hundreds of millions of dollars in American military aid to Pakistan earmarked for fighting Islamist militants was not used for that purpose, U.S. diplomats discovered after conversations with Pakistan's military top brass.
Pakistan's army chief said the money, including $26 million for barbed wire and $70 million to defend against non-existent Taliban warplanes, had been diverted into the Islamabad government's coffers, according to leaked cables to Washington.
The row, which played out over several years, reflects the tense, transactional relationship between reluctant allies. Closed-door conversations revolve around money and military supplies. Mutual suspicion abounds.
"The relationship is one of co-dependency we grudgingly admit," the embassy noted in February 2009. "Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows Pakistan cannot survive without our support."
Dozens of cables from the Islamabad embassy portray US officials dangling billions in aid, offering sophisticated weapons and pushing to provide counterinsurgency training for Pakistan's "1940s" army.
In turn, General Ashfaq Kayani worries his army is seen as a force "for hire", chafes at demands for greater transparency and punishes American diplomats for allegedly siding with arch-rival India.
In October 2009 U.S. officials celebrated after a small team of its special forces soldiers was allowed to deploy alongside Pakistani soldiers in the tribal belt. It was only the second time such permission had been granted, the cable noted.
Military spokesman General Athar Abbas declined to comment on the leaks saying that only when "we can see how it affects Pakistan, will we be able to make a comment".
One of the most contentious issues is coalition support funds (CSF) – U.S. payments for the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the tribal belt that have exceeded $7.5 billion since 2002.
In December 2007 US diplomats reported multiple instances where "funds have been diverted and reimbursed claims figures have been seriously inflated". Despite $55 million for helicopter maintenance, sometimes only two Cobra helicopter gunships were ready to fly. Although $335 million had been given for medical care and a fleet of 26 helicopters, the frontier corps still had no medical rescue service. The army claimed $70 million for radar maintenance even though the Taliban have no air attack capability, and a "highly suspect" $26 million for barbed wire.
When the CSF payments slowed in January 2009 Gen. Kayani spoke candidly about the matter with General David Petraeus, a cable reported. Most of the military funds had been diverted to the federal government, he said.
But Pakistan's generals are equally capable of dishing out punishment. Angry that the U.S. was favouring India, and worried Washington wanted to increase the power of Pakistan's civilian leaders, the "military and intelligence establishment" was quietly punishing the Islamabad embassy, one frank dispatch in February 2010 noted. The military had delayed visas for diplomats, blocked import permits for armoured vehicles, "sabotaged" a security contract and was "stopping and detaining embassy vehicles".
The cable coincided with a period of intense criticism of America in the Pakistani press that U.S. diplomats believed was orchestrated by the ISI.
"Engagement with the Pakistani military has been frustrating," one dispatch said. "Transparency is often nonexistent. Offers of assistance go unanswered or are overruled at headquarters, even as Pakistan's maintenance and training are inadequate." The US vice-president, Joe Biden, described relations with Pakistan as "transactional" and "based on mutual distrust".
The US seems to feel it has little choice but to play along. At the height of the Swat offensive against the Taliban in May 2009 Gen. Kayani told the U.S. ambassador he was desperate for troop-carrying helicopters.
Otherwise, he said pointedly, he would not be able to move against Taliban strongholds in South and North Waziristan - key objectives under American US policy. The U.S. scrambled to help and numerous cables hail a programme to supply F-16 warplanes as "a symbol of renewed post 9/11 co-operation".
But Pakistan's generals want to play down their reliance on the US. Gen. Kayani asks the Americans to "stop the constant stream of leaks from Washington" that "always made it appear as if he were taking steps in response to US demands".
The diplomats recognise that few Pakistanis trust them - "we are viewed at best as a fickle friend and at worst as the reason why Pakistan is attacking its own" - and feel they have been made scapegoats for Pakistan's failures.
"While the army remains fixated on India as Pakistan's mortal enemy, the common man is just as likely to point to America." — © Guardian News & Media 2010