WASHINGTON: In what seems to be a renewed bid to pressure Pakistan to meet its benchmarks, the White House has started conditioning the award of billions of dollars in security assistance to the country on whether Islamabad shows progress on a secret scorecard of US objectives to combat al Qaeda and its militant allies, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
The report reveals that the US is also asking Pakistan to take specific steps to ease bilateral tensions. “The classified system, put in place after the US raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at his Pakistani hideout, signals a shift by the White House toward a pay-for-performance relationship with Pakistan, as doubts grow that the two countries can for now forge a broader alliance based on shared interests,” the report
The Journal quoted a senior military official as calling the unusual new approach “a hard-knuckled reflection of where we are right now” in relations. According to WSJ, the new approach represents an effort to salvage as much counterterrorism cooperation as the Obama administration can at a time when top US officials believe themselves in a race against time to deal a deathblow to al Qaeda’s remaining leadership in Pakistan.
US aid to Pakistan, including economic and security-related assistance, totalled nearly $4.5 billion in fiscal 2010. Security aid accounted for more than $2.7 billion of that, according to the Congressional Research Service. Officials say the White House has already frozen some $800 million in security assistance to Pakistan in recent months because of factors that include Islamabad’s refusal to readmit American trainers and military personnel who process Pakistani reimbursement claims – items that fall into categories on the U.S. performance checklist.
The report quoted US officials as saying that the system isn’t hard and fast – reflecting the volatile nature of the relationship. Total aid spending for this fiscal year isn’t yet available – security aid is expected to total around $2.5 billion, congressional officials say – and the final amount that may be withheld will depend on the level of Pakistani cooperation and how aggressive the White House decides to be in withholding funds.
The White House is responding in part to mounting calls in Congress for putting stringent new conditions on future aid to Pakistan, officials say. Many lawmakers have demanded sharp cuts in military assistance. “The message is: You make progress in these areas, and we can release some of this assistance,” the report quoted a senior US official as saying of the review process. “Give us something that we can show [Congress] that we’re working together,” he added.
Under the new approach, the WSJ reported, the office of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is compiling classified scorecards that track Pakistan’s cooperation in four areas, referred to in the White House as “baskets.” Each basket contains a to-do list that the administration wants from Pakistan. Washington has told Islamabad that future payouts of security assistance would hinge on Pakistan showing it is making progress in these four areas, US were quoted as saying. The officials said the Obama administration presented the request list to Pakistani officials in May, shortly after the bin Laden raid.
However, a spokesman for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) denied the US had formally presented Pakistan with such a list and said it was Pakistan’s prerogative to decide how to combat terrorism and conduct relations with Afghanistan. The four baskets are: Pakistani cooperation in exploiting the bin Laden compound; Pakistani cooperation with the war in Afghanistan; Pakistani cooperation with the US in conducting joint counterterrorism operations; and cooperation in improving the overall tone in bilateral relations. Officials said the details of those baskets were classified. – Dailytimes