It has been a season of acrimony for Pakistan and America. Post Abbottabad, both countries have been quick with offensive rhetoric and administrative retribution against each other. Never before has the relationship between the two allies slid to such levels.
In the last two months, Pakistan has sent back 125 of the 129 US military trainers, who were here to train commandos in counter-terrorism and guerrilla warfare. Almost three dozen British trainers were also relieved of their duties in early July. It also put a squeeze on visas for American nationals, because the military establishment suspects most of them to be intelligence officials or private CIA security contractors.
In retaliation, the Obama administration withheld $800 million of the roughly $2 billion it owes Pakistan since December 2010. The US wants Islamabad to recall the trainers and relax visa restrictions. Washington, insist officials in Islamabad, is also cross because the latter snubbed an American request for permanent presence of its military personnel at all airbases in the country. Also, Pakistan has so far been evasive on the American demand for an all-out military offensive against al-Qaeda-linked militant groups — including the Haqqani network — which US military officials believe are using the Af-Pak border region for exporting terror into Afghanistan.
The US administration has publicly dubbed the suspended $800 million as “security assistance”. But Pakistanis insist this is largely reimbursements that the Pakistan army, under a bilateral agreement, charges the US for deployment of almost 150,000 troops on the western border as part of the US-led , antiterror coalition.
In Washington, Pakistani ambassador Hussein Haqqani also clarified in an interview on Friday that what the US has withheld or delayed is “coalition support payments and not aid”.
Pakistani officials are incensed over American talk of “billions of dollars in aid for Pakistan since 2002”. In reality, they point out, total disbursements to Pakistan in the last decade have been around $19 billion (verifiable from the websites of American department of finance and the State Department). Some of this has been security-related (equipment for troops on border, training ) but the bulk of it — slightly less than $9 billion — were payments under Coalition Support Funds (CSF). Also, the much-hypedKerry-Lugar-Burman Act, passed in October 2009, had promised $1.5 billion as annual civilian assistance. Because of legal complications in the Congress, Pakistan has received only $300 million so far.
Dr Ashfaq Hassan Khan, a former finance advisor to the government and currently dean of Business School at the National University of Sciences and Technology, Islamabad, says that until November 2008, Pakistan had received about $10.76 billion from the US. Of this, $6,062 million (or 56.3%) was reimbursements under CSF. The remaining $4.7 billion included a $1.495-billion debt write-off and $487 million for food and social sector projects.
“In actual terms,” says Khan, “Pakistan received $4,706 million as financial assistance from the US during 2002-2008.”
Since 2009, officials of both countries have been squabbling over what US officials call “inflated invoices from Islamabad”. Consequently, there has been no major disbursement under the KLB Act or CSF.
No wonder Pakistani officials are fuming. Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas says the “real numbers present an altogether different story and it is really unfair to include even the costs of operations in the border areas as security assistance.” The American attitude has even invited scorn from some of the army’s harshest critics, such as journalist-turnedpolitician Ayaz Amir. “The Americans want the Pakistan army to go into North Waziristan and set ablaze the entire length of the Afghan-Pakistan border… this at a time when they are exploring avenues to talk to the Taliban,” wrote Amir in his latest column for ‘The News’. This was a reference to Washington’s desperate attempts to open dialogue with Mullah Omar’s Taliban, and its demand that Pakistan go after Omar’s most trusted ally, the Haqqanis, who are the second-strongest component of the anti-US insurgency.
It is fairly obvious to everyone here that the US anger is not about “financial aid and assistance” alone. As the Americans begin the gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan — to cut down the whopping $7 billion a month they are spending there — they are exploring the peace option for themselves but want Pakistan to go all-out for the war option.
And here lies the core of Pakistan-US differences — a conflict between America’s short-term objective to extricate most of its troops out of Afghanistan, and the Pakistani attempt to prevent further damage to its long-term interests in a war that has cost it more than 35,000 civilian and military casualties and severely hurt the economy.
This divergence, however, is unlikely to derail the relationship altogether. For one, America’s partial withdrawal from Afghanistan requires a friction-free engagement with Pakistan. Second, the US cannot afford to vacate the space for Beijing. Gen David Petraeus’s trip to Rawalpindi on July 13 and Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s parleys in Washington around the same time should be seen in this context — of mutual dependence.