Obama mission: Billions to Pakistan, billions from India

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration is lining up at least $ 2 billion in fresh, new military aid to Pakistan even as it is lobbying for billions of dollars in defense sales to India ahead of the US President’s visit to the region early November.Two weeks before the India trip however, the US is all set to shower yet another round of military largesse on its dubious ally, ostensibly to help it fight extremists, who by Washington’s own accounts are fostered, protected, and promoted by Pakistan.The aid package is set to be announced during the US-Pakistan “strategic dialogue” – the second this year – starting Wednesday in Washington DC.The arms bonanza comes just weeks after India’s defense minister AK Antony conveyed New Delhi’s reservations to Washington about US arms to Pakistan invariably being lined up against India, something even the Obama administration has on occasions recognized.It also comes amid stunning disclosures pointing to direct ISI (and therefore the Pakistani state’s) involvement in the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, which sites President Obama is expected to visit on November 6. Six Americans were among 172 people killed in the carnage.On top of this, a top Nato official said this week that Osama bin Laden was living in “relative comfort” in Pakistan, protected by locals and some members of the country’s intelligence agencies, following up similar charges earlier by secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Despite these developments, the Obama administration evidently places its trust in Pakistan’s credentials in the war on terror, and has determined that Islamabad needs to be militarily strengthened to fight extremism.It is getting around the Indian protest that it is needlessly arming an adventurous and unrepentant ally that uses terrorism as a state policy by terming the military aid a “security assistance package.”American officials who have briefed the media on the subject ahead of the “strategic dialogue” say the package, totaling as much as $2 billion over five years, is aimed at helping Pakistan fight extremists on its border with Afghanistan.

The package will be in the form of financial aid under the American Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, which in turn will help Pakistan purchase weapons and defense equipment like helicopter gunships and communication equipment produced in the United States.It is aimed at addressing Pakistan’s insistence it does not have the capability to go after terrorists, and needs more support from the United States, according to the New York Times and CNN, which both reported the development on Monday.

The latest US largesse for Pakistan, which is separate from the five-year, $ 7.5 billion aid under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, comes even as Washington is lobbying fiercely for greater Indian defense purchases worth billions of dollars as New Delhi seeks to shore up its military.India has finalized nearly $ 10 billion worth of military purchases from the US in recent months, including a deal in 2009 for eight Boeing P-81 maritime patrol aircraft worth $2.1 billion and the sale this year of 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III Aircrafts worth $5.8 billion, the largest defense deal with India in US history.An even bigger piece of action is in the pipeline – a purchase worth more than $ 10 billion for 126 Multi-Role Combat Aircraft that New Delhi is seeking, and for which US companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin are in the race.

While India’s will be paying hard cash for all these transactions, Pakistan, which was already broke before it was overrun by floods of biblical proportions and reduced to begging, will essentially be getting freebie military hardware from the US in the name of fighting terrorism.The US aid comes despite criticism from Washington that Pakistan’s wealthy, including its political leadership, is ducking from paying taxes, and US tax-payers are having to pick up the tab for Pakistan.In fact, ahead of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, Pakistan has made no move to reform its tax collection as demanded by secretary of state Hillary Clinton and top European Union officials recently.

Instead, the Pakistani delegation is coming to Washington with a laundry list of demands, including a nuclear deal that will bring it on par with India, greater US role in resolving the Kashmir issue, and taking into account Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan.The Pakistanis are even pressing for a stopover by President Obama in Islamabad during his November visit to India, according to some reports.The Pakistani delegation for the “strategic dialogue” this week will be formally led by the country’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and will have cabinet ministers of defense and finance, among others.

But the real power and influence behind the Pakistani push for greater US aid will be the country’s army chief, Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, who is part of the team, notwithstanding Washington’s reservations about the military’s continuing influence in Islamabad – Timesofindia