Posts Tagged ‘ US Aid ’

New Year’s gift: Obama signs bill freezing aid to Pakistan

As Reported By Reuters

President Barack Obama signed a sweeping US defense funding bill on Saturday which includes new sanctions on financial institutions dealing with Iran’s central bank, and curtailing up to $850 million in aid to Pakistan. The bill was signed despite concerns about sections that expand the US military’s authority over terrorism suspects and limit his powers in foreign affairs.

The massive defense bill Congress passed on earlier in December freezes 60 per cent of the $850 million aid, or $510 million, until the US defense secretary provides lawmakers with assurances that Pakistan is working to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs). US lawmakers say that many Afghan bombs that kill US troops are made with fertilizer smuggled by militants across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

“The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” Obama said in a statement, citing limits on transferring detainees from the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and requirements he notify Congress before sharing some defense missile information with Russia as problematic.

The bill, approved by Congress last week after its language was revised, aims with its Iran sanctions to reduce Tehran’s oil revenues but gives the US president powers to waive penalties as required. Senior US officials said Washington was engaging with its foreign partners to ensure the sanctions can work without harming global energy markets, and stressed the US strategy for engaging with Iran was unchanged by the bill.

The bill may also prove problematic for Pakistan in ways other than providing assurances of concrete steps to counter the manufacture of IEDs. The sanctions placed on dealing with Iran’s central banks may weigh on Pakistan’s plans for the Iran-Pakistan pipeline which aims to provide gas to Pakistan.

Pakistan needs the gas supplies from Iran to augment its own gas reserves which have been shrinking fast, leading to widespread gas shortages affecting its industry and daily life.

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Pakistan threatens to withdraw troops from Afghan border over US aid reduction

By Rob Crilly for The Telegraph

Pakistan has warned it will withdraw troops from the Afghan border where they are fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked insurgents if the US does not reinstate $800m in military assistance which has been suspended amid a worsening diplomatic row.

The cash includes $300m to reimburse the Pakistan military for deploying troops in the mountainous tribal areas close to Afghanistan.

Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, the country’s defence minister, said without it Pakistan could not afford to keep troops at 1,100 checkpoints near the mountainous border.

“The next step would be that the government or the armed forces will pull back the forces from the border areas,” he told the Express 24/7 news channel. “We cannot afford to keep military out in the mountains for such a long period.”

Officials say 147,000 troops are deployed in the tribal areas, where they are engaged in operations against Taliban and al-Qaeda cells.

Relations between the two countries have been fraught ever since they were forced into an awkward alliance in the aftermath of 9/11. This year they have plunged to new depths.

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Pakistan’s military officers are furious that the Pentagon did not inform them of a covert raid to kill or capture Osama bin Laden in May in the town of Abbottabad, only 30 miles from the capital Islamabad.

Since then they have stepped up condemnation of CIA drone strikes against terror suspects and expelled American military trainers, as they try noisily to distract domestic attention from their own failure to find bin Laden or spot the American helicopters as they flew through Pakistani air space.

In return, US officials have questioned Pakistan’s commitment to tackling militants and accused the government of assassinating a troublesome journalist.

At the weekend it emerged that the Pentagon was to end a third of its annual $2.7bn assistance to the Pakistan military.

In Washington, Colonel David Lapan, Pentagon spokesman, said the military aid could be resumed if Pakistan increased the number of visas for US personnel and reinstated the training missions.

However, analysts in Islamabad said such threats would be counterproductive and warned of an anti-American backlash.

“The US needs to treat Pakistan as a country it’s not trying to bully into submission,” said Cyril Almeida, a columnist with Dawn newspaper.

In the meantime, the US has begun using land routes through Central Asia to resupply troops in Afghanistan in case Pakistan shuts the Khyber Pass to convoys carrying food and fuel.

A fresh wave of drone attacks may also exacerbate tension. At least 45 suspected militants were killed by missiles in Pakistan’s northwest, according to local intelligence officials on Tuesday, one of the largest death tolls to date in the controversial air bombing campaign.

US Suspends Pakistan Military Aid as Diplomatic Relations Worsen

By Saeed Shah for The Guardian

The Pakistan military declared it did not need US military aid as the White House confirmed that it would withhold some $800m (£498m) in assistance to the country’s armed forces.

The row will worsen the already poisonous relationship between the two “allies”, which since the unilateral US raid to kill Osama bin Laden in May has lurched towards breakdown.

Pakistan recently expelled US military trainers from the country, limited the ability of US diplomats and other officials to get visas, and restricted CIA operations on its territory. “The Pakistani relationship is difficult but it must be made to work over time. But until we get through these difficulties we will hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give them,” William Daley, the White House chief-of-staff, told ABC News on Sunday.

At stake is Pakistani co-operation against al-Qaida, the Taliban and other extremist groups, which the increasingly bitter relationship is putting at risk. Much of al-Qaida’s remaining leadership is believed to be hiding in Pakistan, while Pakistani territory is used as a safe haven by Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani network, fighting across the border in Afghanistan.

The new US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, said over the weekend that he believed Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was in Pakistan’s tribal area and “he’s one of those we would like to see the Pakistanis target”. Pakistan responded by asking for the US to share the intelligence on Zawahiri’s whereabouts.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is meanwhile fighting its home-grown extremists in the tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, where a new offensive was launched earlier this month. Major General Athar Abbas, the chief spokesman for the Pakistan military, said that the military had received no formal notification of any aid being cut. He also pointed out that the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, had already declared that cash reimbursements to the military, known as coalition support funds, should go instead to the civilian government, where there was more need.

“We have conducted our [anti-extremist] military operations without external support or assistance,” said Abbas. “Reports coming out of the US are aimed at undermining the authority of our military organisations.”

Critical stories about Pakistan are leaked on an almost daily basis to the American press, riling Pakistani public and official opinion against Washington. Many in Pakistan believe there is a concerted American effort to weaken Pakistan and its armed forces, which are some of the largest in the world.

For Washington, Pakistan’s refusal to launch an offensive against the Haqqani network and suspicions that Bin Laden benefited from some kind of official support to live in Pakistan has corroded ties.

There are also questions hanging over future civilian aid, which is meant to provide $1.5bn a year in economic help.

Cyril Almeida, a columnist with Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, said the country was in danger of becoming internationally isolated, while US policy towards Pakistan was muddled.

“The US can’t decide they if they want to stay in this relationship or cut Pakistan off,” he said. “These leaks and pressure tactics just confirm to the army generals the view that America is no friend of Pakistan and it wishes Pakistan harm.”

Since 2001, the US has provided $21bn in civilian and military assistance, including $4.5bn in the 2010-2011 financial year, as aid was increased under the Obama administration. Two proposed bills in Congress over the last week, which were voted down, would have cut off aid to Pakistan altogether.

Pakistan’s economy is spiralling downwards, with electricity shortages shutting down industry, and rising food and fuel prices causing protests on the streets. Karachi, the country’s economic powerhouse, is often shut down by ethnic gang violence, which has claimed more than 100 lives in the current spate of bloodshed.

Pakistan Accepts Flood Aid Money From Rival India

By Issam Ahmed for The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan has accepted an offer of $5 million of flood aid from neighbor and longtime rival India, in a move that could spark a political backlash at home.

In an interview with Indian news channel NDTV, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi described the offer of aid, made last week, as a “very welcome initiative” which the government of Pakistan has agreed to accept, after taking some time to decide.

But it would have been better to say “thanks, but no thanks,” according to Liaqat Baloch, secretary general of Pakistan’s second-largest religious party, the Jamaat-e-Islami.

“Pakistan has many disputes with India, with reference to Kashmir, and the Indian Army engaging in brutality in occupied Kashmir,” he says. “In the past, when Pakistan tried to support India after their natural disasters, India never accepted. Therefore it would be better if our government refused the aid with a big thank you.”

Al Khidmet foundation, Jamaat-e-Islami’s charitable wing, has been one of the most visible aid organizations in the flood-affected areas.

The two countries have made efforts in recent months to repair bilateral relations, which took a plunge following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. India blames those attacks on Pakistan-backed militants. The two countries have fought three full-scale wars, most recently in 1999.

The United States had urged Pakistan to accept India’s offer of aid earlier this week. When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called his Pakistani counterpart to offer his condolences following the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history, it was an event widely reported in the Pakistan media.

“In such times of natural disasters, all of South Asia should rise to the occasion and extend every possible help to the people of Pakistan affected by the tragedy,” Mr. Singh said, according to a statement released by his office.

According to Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan’s Herald magazine, the amount of aid pledged is “symbolic, but its effect is immense. It’s a good confidence building measure between the two countries.”

But, he warns, Pakistan’s religious parties will try to spin the move “as a sign of weakness.”

“They will see it as a capitulation to India, that our own government is so weak we have been forced to accept help from the historic enemy,” says Mr. Alam.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a columnist for Pakistan’s The News, termed the decision brave: “It’s a tremendous gesture, very mature. India should be commended for donating it and Pakistan should be commended for accepting it.”

“The whole idea in an emergency is you’ll have the Jamat ud Dawas [the charitable wing of banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba] and you’ll have competing powers working almost in tandem to support people. It shows that no matter what our value systems, we have to work together right now,” he adds.

Some 20 million people are affected by Pakistan’s worst flooding in recent memory; Pakistan’s government estimates around 1,600 deaths and millions homeless or displaced. The United Nations appealed to the international community to donate $460 million in emergency assistance last week, and has met half of that goal. Yesterday the US increased its flood aid to Pakistan from $80 million to $150 million.

-Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- It is a good decision by the Pakistani government to accept the aid offer from India. Not only will this be a confidence building measure between the two nations, it will save countless lives, and no nation is too proud to save the lives of its citizens.

As Power Shortages Spread, Pakistan Switches Off The Lights

By Saeed Shah for The Miami Herald

LAHORE, Pakistan — Amid fears that severe energy shortages could touch off riots, Pakistan will announce drastic measures this week to save electricity, including a shorter workweek and restrictions on nighttime wedding celebrations, government officials said Wednesday.

With power outages lasting up to 20 hours a day in cities and villages, halting industry and even farming in some places, the electricity crisis could further destabilize a vital U.S. ally. Already this year, there have been streets protests – some violent, resulting in at least one death – over the electricity stoppages.

“Children can’t do their homework. Household work doesn’t get done, as washing machines and other appliances cannot work. When you go home from work, you have no idea whether there will be electricity at home. Your whole life is disturbed,” said Mahnaz Peracha of the Network for Consumer Protection, an independent Pakistani advocacy group.

The Obama administration says that helping Pakistan surmount its electricity crisis is one of the top priorities of its aid effort.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said this week that Pakistan’s electricity situation was “not acceptable” and that Washington would help to “the absolute limits of what Congress will fund. It is a big issue.”

Pakistan has been crippled by a shortfall in electricity generation, producing only about 10,000 megawatts of the required 16,000 a day. Further, some generators aren’t working at full capacity because the government owes money to power producers. The government is expected to inject around $1 billion into the system to pay its debts, but energy savings can’t make up for the shortages until new plants come online.

Industries such as the textile sector have had to shorten shifts and lay off workers, and farmers can’t use their electric pumps to irrigate fields. Some businesses, such as tailoring and printing, are telling customers it will take weeks to complete their orders.

As well as suffering from outages, consumers have been hit by a steep increase in the price of electricity, as Pakistan eliminated subsidies to meet lending terms by the International Monetary Fund, causing further resentment.

The energy-saving measures are likely to extend the country’s one-day weekend to a second day, push clocks forward by an hour and close industry for one day during the workweek, according to officials who were briefed on the plans but who spoke only on the condition of anonymity ahead of the government announcement.

Zafaryab Khan, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, said the proposals were being finalized Wednesday and would be unveiled Thursday.

Street lighting also will be cut back, so that only every second or third light is on, markets will close soon after sunset and wedding receptions – huge, ostentatious events in Pakistani tradition – will be required to end by 9 or 10 p.m. Individual provinces will impose further restrictions.

In the dominant Punjab province, where more than half the country’s population lives, there will be a ban on electrical billboards, neon signs, decorative lights on buildings and the operation of fountains, and government offices won’t be permitted to run their air conditioners before 11 a.m. Analysts said enforcing the restrictions would be difficult.

Hamid Karzai Is Losing All His Marbles and His Credibility

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Kabul, Afghanistan- President Hamid Karzai’s troubling remarks this past Saturday that he would join the Taliban if he continues to come under pressure to reform by the United States and other “outsiders” has caused a stir in Washington DC.  Karzai’s comments came a week after President Obama’s surprise visit to Afghanistan at the end of March to pressure Karzai’s government to reform the political system, end corruption, and do a better job of fighting the Taliban.

Instead, what Karza delivered was a threat of the worse kind and quite possibly the most offensive and troubling thing one can say to a country that is risking countless soldiers lives daily to secure the country from the Taliban and other militant warlords in Afghanistan. In 8 short years, Hamid Karzai has gone from being the special guest of honor at George Bush’s State of the Union address to a leader who threatened to join our worst enemy. All because he feels that the US needs to stop badgering him to be a more responsible, fair, and an equitable leader as well as an effective partner in fighting the Taliban.

Karzai apparently made these unusual comments at a closed door meeting of lawmakers on Saturday, just days after accusing “foreigners” presumably the Unites States of being behind the fraud of the disputed elections of 2009. “He said that if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban”, said Farooq Marenai, a lawmaker from the eastern province of Nangarhar.  Mareni also stated that Karzai appeared nervous and demanded to know why parliament last week rejected legal reforms that would have strengthened Karzai’s authority over the country’s electoral institutions. Several other lawmakers confirmed that Karzai twice threatened to join the insurgency and the Taliban.

Karzai’s comments are troubling on many levels. First and foremost, he gives legitimacy and strength to the Taliban as his comments present the Taliban as an alternative option to American support or view on the situation. Karzai’s statement will no doubt have traveled the length and breadth of Afghanistan as word will spread that there is a weakness in the American-Afghan coalition that has been fighting and hunting the Taliban since October of 2001, post 9-11. The remarks by Karzai also puts every American, NATO, and Pakistani soldier at risk as instead of liberators, the foreign armies would be thought of as invaders, literally overnight. Lastly, Karzai’s remarks prove to the fact that Karzai is no longer an ally nor a credible partner for the US , NATO, and Pakistani army that have been fighting the Taliban with all their might.

There are reports of widespread nepotism, corruption, fraud, looting of the treasuries, and even drug trafficking, as Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been alleged to be a prominent figure in Afghanistan’s world leading illegal heroin production, cultivation and its global distribution. These facts along with his inability to rule effectively and assist the United States in its exit strategy out of Afghanistan by end of 2011 has made the Obama administration weary of dealing with Karzai. Also his typically slow response in instituting political and social freedoms along with a renewed focus in fighting the Taliban, has also been a factor in displeasure from Washington.

The Obama administration has refocused on the Afghan war with 30,000 additional troops to help with the war effort and that initial surge has helped the commanders on the ground in running the Taliban out of certain areas. There have also been great recent victories by the Pakistani army to go after the Taliban militants on its side of the border and in helping cut down the bases of support for the Afghan Taliban from the Pakistani tribal areas sympathetic to their cause. So these comments come at the worst possible time when the Taliban are on the run both in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a strong coalition of US-Afghan-Pakistan resistance against them could help eliminate or destroy the militants for good. But instead, the US and its allies are left wondering what to do with Karzai and how much he could be trusted in this tenuous partnership against the Taliban.

U.S. Aims to Ease India-Pakistan Tension

By Peter Spiegel and Matthew Rosenberg for The Wall Street Journal

President Barack Obama issued a secret directive in December to intensify American diplomacy aimed at easing tensions between India and Pakistan, asserting that without détente between the two rivals, the administration’s efforts to win Pakistani cooperation in Afghanistan would suffer.

Pakistani Rangers (L) and Indian Border Security Force (BSF) personnel perform the daily retreat ceremony at the India-Pakistan Border at Wagah on December 26, 2009. The directive concluded that India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on U.S. goals in the region, according to people familiar with its contents.

The U.S. has invested heavily in its own relations with Pakistan in recent months, agreeing to a $7.5 billion aid package and sending top military and diplomatic officials to Islamabad on repeated visits. The public embrace, which reached a high point last month in high-profile talks in Washington, reflects the Obama administration’s belief that Pakistan must be convinced to change its strategic calculus and take a more assertive stance against militants based in its western tribal regions over the course of the next year in order to turn the tide in Afghanistan.

A debate continues within the administration over how hard to push India, which has long resisted outside intervention in the conflict with its neighbor. The Pentagon, in particular, has sought more pressure on New Delhi, according to U.S. and Indian officials. Current and former U.S. officials said the discussion in Washington over how to approach India has intensified as Pakistan ratchets up requests that the U.S. intercede in a series of continuing disputes.

Pakistan has long regarded Afghanistan as providing “strategic depth”—essentially, a buffer zone—in a potential conflict with India. Some U.S. officials believe Islamabad will remain reluctant to wholeheartedly fight the Islamic militants based on its Afghan border unless the sense of threat from India is reduced.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already taken the political risk of pursuing peace talks with Pakistan, but faces significant domestic opposition to any additional outreach without Pakistani moves to further clamp down on Islamic militants who have targeted India.

U.S. and Indian officials say the Obama administration has so far made few concrete demands of New Delhi. According to U.S. officials, the only specific request has been to discourage India from getting more involved in training the Afghan military, to ease Pakistani concerns about getting squeezed by India on two borders.

“This is an administration that’s deeply divided about the wisdom of leaning on India to solve U.S. problems with Pakistan,” said Ashley Tellis, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has discussed the issue with senior officials in the U.S. and India. “There are still important constituencies within the administration that have not given up hope that India represents the answer.”

India has long resisted outside involvement in its differences with Pakistan, particularly over the disputed region of Kashmir. But, according to a U.S. government official, a 56-page dossier presented by the Pakistani government to the Obama administration ahead of high-level talks in Washington last month contained a litany of accusations against the Indian government, and suggestions the U.S. intercede on Pakistan’s behalf.

The official said the document alleges that India has never accepted Pakistan’s sovereignty as an independent state, and accuses India of diverting water from the Indus River and fomenting separatism in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signaled that Washington isn’t interested in mediating on water issues, which are covered by a bilateral treaty.

The White House declined to comment on Mr. Obama’s directive or on the debate within the administration over India policy. The directive to top foreign-policy and national-security officials was summarized in a memo written by National Security Adviser James Jones at the end of the White House’s three-month review of Afghan war policy in December.

An Indian government official said the U.S.’s increasing attention to Pakistani concerns hasn’t hurt bilateral relations overall. “Our relationship is mature—of course we have disagreements, but we’re trying not to have knee-jerk reactions,” the Indian official said.

According to U.S. and Indian officials, the Pentagon has emerged in internal Obama administration debates as an active lobbyist for more pressure on India, with some officials already informally pressing Indian officials to take Pakistan’s concerns more seriously. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. government’s prime interlocutor with the powerful head of the Pakistani army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has been among the more vocal advocates of a greater Indian role, according to a U.S. military official, encouraging New Delhi to be more “transparent” about its activities along the countries’ shared border and to cooperate more with Pakistan.

In interviews, U.S. military officials were circumspect about what specific moves they would like to see from New Delhi. But according to people who have discussed India policy with Pentagon officials, the ideas discussed in internal debates include reducing the number of Indian troops in Kashmir or pulling back forces along the border.

“They say, ‘The Pakistanis have this perception and you have to deal with the perception’,” said one foreign diplomat who has discussed India’s role with Pentagon officials. An Indian defense ministry spokesman said his country’s army has already moved about 30,000 troops out of Kashmir in recent years.

The State Department has resisted such moves to pressure India, according to current and former U.S. officials, insisting they could backfire. These officials have argued that the most recent promising peace effort—secret reconciliation talks several years ago between Indian Prime Minster Singh and then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf—occurred without U.S. involvement.

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