Pakistan pushed to its limits
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
NEW YORK - United States President Barack Obama, co-chairing with British Prime
Minister Gordon Brown the first summit meeting of the Friends of Democratic
Pakistan, on Thursday announced that the US Senate had unanimously passed the
Kerry-Lugar bill, authorizing US$1.5 billion in economic assistance for
Pakistan annually over five years.
This amount, which is triple what Pakistan has been receiving, in addition to
the several billions of dollars Pakistan receives annually in other military
and non-military aid.
In response, it appears that Pakistan's political leaders have consented to
military operations against militants and al-Qaeda in the North Waziristan and
South Waziristan tribal areas on the
border with Afghanistan.
Although the military has recently conducted successful operations in other
trouble spots in the tribal areas, such as Swat, Islamabad has been reluctant
to commit fully to engagement in the Waziristans, where the Pakistan Taliban
and their al-Qaeda allies have a strong foothold and from where militants fuel
the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmud Qureshi, flanked by Richard Holbrooke,
the US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Sir Sherard
Cowper-Coles, Britain's special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, gave a
briefing after the summit meeting.
He said the gathering, which included 26 countries and international
organizations, had unanimously declared military operations against the Taliban
in the Malakand area a success, adding that Pakistan would follow a similar
model in the tribal areas - a clear hint that the government had agreed to send
armed forces into the Waziristans.
While Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is ostensibly in New York for the
United Nations General Assembly gathering, on the sidelines and in other
interaction he has been well feted by the Obama administration as the person
who can best further US interests in Pakistan and Afghanistan - as much as
Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani does and former president
General Pervez Musharraf did.
Zardari will also be pleased with the Friends of Democratic Pakistan meeting,
at which members acknowledged Pakistan's economic difficulties and institutions
like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank vowed to immediately
undertake water and energy related projects for the country.
"If you go through the history of US aid, you would not find a parallel of such
an aid package as the Kerry-Lugar bill," Holbrooke said, saying it was "a very
important step forward". The bill points to Pakistan as a critical friend and
ally and notes the profound sacrifices it has made in the "war on terror". The
money provided by the bill will be used to fund a wide range of development
projects, from schools and infrastructure to the judicial system.
The language of the version that was approved in the senate - it is now to go
before the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives where it is expected to
pass easily - was less stringent than the original. Specific references to
India as well as to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the disgraced "father" of Pakistan's
nuclear weapons program, were eliminated.
The earlier version had wanted to make Pakistan give access to Khan and other
scientists involved in nuclear proliferation. It also had urged Pakistan to
coordinate its activities against terrorism with India. In the revised version,
it only wants Pakistan to liaise with neighboring countries.
Earlier, General Stanley McChrystal, the top US military commander for
Afghanistan, said in a report that India's political and economic influence was
increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and
The report said the Afghan government was perceived by Islamabad to be
pro-Indian. "While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people,
increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional
tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India,"
said the report.
The bill also contains a waiver for every condition that is imposed on
Pakistan, but now this can be granted by the secretary of state, not the
president as earlier proposed. None of the conditions can set in motion
The bill underlines the importance of supporting Pakistan's national security
needs in its ongoing counter-insurgency battle and in improving its border
security, while requiring the government to demonstrate a sustained effort to
combat extremist groups and show progress towards defeating them.
Foreign Minister Qureshi told Asia Times Online that a detailed package for the
capacity enhancement of the Pakistani armed forces had been agreed on. However,
he clarified that it only involved modern counter-insurgency equipment and
Pakistan has got what it wanted. The onus now rests with Zardari to deliver.
This will be the most difficult and dangerous part, to take on the Taliban and
al-Qaeda inside Pakistan in a struggle in which there are no guarantees of
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]