Political crisis jeopardizes US aid plan for Pakistan: WP
INGTON - Pakistan's ongoing political crisis threatens to upend a new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy that envisages greatly increased economic and development aid to Pakistan where the government has become weak, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Citing administration officials, the newspaper said finishing touches are being put on the plan that would also expand a military partnership considered crucial to striking a "mortal blow" against al-Qaeda's leadership and breaking the Pakistani-based extremist networks that sustain the war in Afghanistan.
Final recommendations on the new strategy may go to President Barack Obama as early as Friday, officials said.
"But the weakness of Pakistan's elected government -- backed into a corner by weekend demonstrations that left its political opposition strengthened -- has called into question one of the basic pillars of that plan," the Post said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani was confident that the U.S. assistance for his country would remain unaffected by the domestic political developments as the American support is aimed at the uplift of Pakistani people and stability of their country.
"The United States' support and aid should be for the Pakistani people and should remain unaffacted by developments in domestic politics. We expect the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. to remain strong and stable," Ambassador Haqqani when asked for his comments.
"As an ally of Pakistan, the United States has legitimate concerns about domestic developments but it has no role in our domestic politics. Pakistan's domestic politics are a matter for the Pakistanis alone," Haqqani said.
In its dispatch, the Post noted that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, special envoy Richard Holbrooke and other administration officials MOnday congratulated President Asif Ali Zardari for meeting the principal demand of Pakistan's opposition: restoring the former chief justice of the Supreme Court and a group of other deposed judges. But while resolution of the immediate problem "bodes better than the alternative outcome" of political meltdown, Holbrooke said, "the underlying problem still exists."
PAK GOVT UNPOPULAR
"We understood from the beginning that the current government is not wildly popular," an unnamed senior administration official was quoted as saying. "If we're going to sustain a civilian government that can be a counterpart, we need one that has enough basis of support" to carry out the strong counterterrorism policies that are necessary.
"Whatever you think about the importance of engaging with them," the official added, there is little point in doing so while Pakistani political forces are battling in the street. "Nobody is going to fund the money if they think it's not going to do any good. There has to be some sense that our engagement and support contribute to a more stable Pakistan that is going to take on the extremists."
The administration plans to send Congress a supplemental 2009 appropriation, including aid to Pakistan, in the coming days, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is putting the finishing touches on a long-term assistance proposal with a multibillion-dollar price tag.
But "the fact that Congress appropriates money does not mean that it all immediately goes out the door," said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds U.S. foreign aid programmes. "It's going to depend on events in Pakistan and whether there is confidence here that it can be used effectively.
"There's a strong desire to do whatever we can to help Pakistan combat the Taliban and al-Qaeda," Leahy said. "But if Pakistan is in such a state of internal political turmoil that U.S. aid can't be used effectively, that's going to limit what can be done and also how successful we are in Afghanistan."
Mrs. Clinton "no question, absolutely," made that point in telephone calls Saturday morning to Zardari and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, the senior administration official said.
The U.S. and British governments undertook direct and intense intervention as the crisis was building late last week. In addition to Mrs. Clinton, Holbrooke was in direct contact with Pakistani leaders, as was British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke directly with Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kiyani on Friday, and the U.S. and British ambassadors made repeated, direct contact with Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani over the weekend.
"The international community worked closely with both sides here," Holbrooke said.
Zardari's government, however, was less than pleased with how the intervention unfolded -- especially the contacts with Sharif, the Post said. The opposition leader, deposed as prime minister by a military coup in 1999, credits then-U.S. President Bill Clinton with helping to save his life following the military action that led to his exile, and he has remained close to Hillary Clinton.
By calling Sharif last weekend, a senior Pakistani official close to Zardari said, Mrs. Clinton further weakened the government.
The administration's intervention, the official said, "has lasting implications for how much the Zardari government is going to go out on a limb for the U.S., for how much we will trust them."