Pakistan leaders to request more military, economic aid in US talks

Pakistan leaders, including the Army chief and foreign minister, are requesting additional military and economic aid during strategic dialogue with US officials.

Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
A Pakistani Army soldier stood guard at a check post in the Swat Valley region located in Pakistan's restive North West Frontier Province on March 19. Pakistani leaders are requesting more military and economic aid in US talks.

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Pakistani leaders are meeting with US Defense and State Department officials in Washington this week for a “strategic dialogue” that will help shape the two countries’ relationship in coming years.

The United States considers Pakistan an important ally in the war in Afghanistan, though it has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to combat the Afghan Taliban, and discussion of the two nations’ defense partnership is a large component of the talks. But Pakistan is also asking that the US look beyond the military aspect to build a deeper relationship with economic and development aid. It may also be prepared to offer more assistance cracking down on the Afghan Taliban in return, according to some reports.

Agence France-Presse reports that Pakistani Army head Gen. Ashfaq Kayani met with the head of US Central Command Gen. David Petraeus on Sunday, and then held discussions with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen in Washington Monday. Kayani is due to meet again with Mullen Tuesday. The talks focused on defense issues, and “countering extremist violence in Afghanistan, as well as US support for Pakistan's struggle against violent extremists at home," according to Central Command.

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, will meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Wednesday to add to the discussion issues like economic development, water, energy, education, communications, public diplomacy, and agriculture, reports AFP. Kayani will handle all security matters during Wednesday's meeting with Mrs. Clinton, Reuters reports.

The US has long criticized Pakistan for cracking down on the Pakistani Taliban while refusing to go after the Afghan Taliban. But recently Pakistan has arrested a number of high-ranking Afghan Taliban leaders, as The Christian Science Monitor reported, possibly signaling a new willingness to cooperate with the US on that front.

Some see this week’s talks as part of a potential deal between the US and Pakistan, with Pakistan asking for more aid in return for more cooperation in cracking down on the Taliban. The Wall Street Journal reports that Pakistan sent a document to US officials before the talks requesting aid in a number of specific areas, including help with water and power infrastructure, and help developing civilian nuclear energy, as well as more cooperation between its spy agency and US intelligence, more surveillance aircraft, and other military hardware.

US officials say the document and the talks surrounding it could help redefine one of America's thorniest foreign-policy relationships, if it leads to a serious Pakistani clampdown on the Taliban. […] Many of Pakistan's requests build on longstanding demands for more US assistance. But officials on both sides say that by detailing them in a single comprehensive document, Islamabad is trying to signal its willingness to align its interests with those of Washington, its vision for a partnership—and its price.

The Journal reports that the Pentagon is considering up to $500 million in additional military aid to Pakistan in response to the document. The US has spent more than $17.5 billion on aid in Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001, mostly on military and security aid. Last year, Congress voted to send $7.8 billion to Pakistan over the next five years for nonmilitary aid. (Reuters details how the State Department has proposed to spend that money.)

An editorial in the Pakistani daily Dawn argues that economic and development issues in Pakistan should not be forgotten amid the focus on a military partnership.

Areas such as the economy, energy, education, science and technology, health, communication, and agriculture are vital if Pakistan is to emerge from the war against militancy a stronger and more prosperous nation. [… T]here is a feeling on the Pakistani side that the American bureaucracy is moving too slowly and is being overly cautious. With the Pakistani economy in the doldrums and the government struggling to contain a fiscal deficit that has left little room for population-oriented expenditures, the country needs external assistance more than ever — and it needs it now.

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