US winks again at Pakistani terror tactics


WASHINGTON: As it has happened in the past, Pakistan has been spared the rod by the United States for its international transgressions, this time for its continued patronage of terrorism in the region, in the interest of what Washington believes is American national security.

The US state department last month waived legal requirements that made its nearly $ 2 billion annual aid to Pakistan contingent on its cooperation in counter-terrorism, ending nuclear proliferation and building democratic institutions, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report released recently has revealed.

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton is said to have informed Congress, which has mandated the restriction subject to a national security waiver, that she is setting aside legal restrictions that would have blocked the $2 billion in US economic and military assistance. Disbursing the funds is "important to the national security interests of the United States," she has told Congress.

The waiver is evidently linked to securing Pakistan's cooperation in the upcoming US withdrawal from Afghanistan and preventing all all-out civil war in the country once the US leaves. A blunt way of putting it would be the US is trying to buy peace in the region on its way out while Pakistan is blackmailing Washington with its ability to create trouble in the land-locked country.

This is not the first time Washington has struck what critics have described as a Faustian bargain with Islamabad. Towards the end of the Cold War, the US winked at Pakistan's illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons as part of its effort to evict the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan.

The US lavished billions of dollars in military assistance even though Pakistan and its procurement spearhead AQ Khan were crossing nuclear red lines, and US laws mandated sanctions for the infractions. It was only after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan that Washington invoked the Pressler Amendment to impose sanctions, but by then Pakistan had nuclearized.

According to the latest report, Clinton, in her September 13 message to Congress, said she is waiving provisions of the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (EPPA) and the state department's 2012 budget requiring that she certify that Islamabad has met certain conditions before the $2 billion in economic, military and counter-terrorism assistance can be disbursed.

The conditions require Islamabad to have made progress in "ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistani military or its intelligence agency, to extremist groups," especially those that have attacked US.-led forces in Afghanistan. Islamabad is also required to make progress in stopping its extremists from operating in Pakistan, staging attacks in neighboring countries, and shutting down terrorist bases in the tribal areas and other parts of its country. The wording of the legislation, while not mentioning India, makes it implicitly clear that Pakistan has to cease using terrorism against its neighbors. Clinton's waiver suggests it has not.

One way of looking at the latest development is that Clinton, by invoking the waiver clause, has implicitly charged Pakistan with continuing its dalliance with terrorism. She had previously certified Pakistani compliance even though the clean chit was privately challenged by many in her own administration (not to speak of Afghan and Indian officials) who believe that Pakistan has not given up on its use of terror groups to achieve its goals.

But despite the enormous mistrust between the two sides, mostly engendered by the Pakistani military-security-intelligence establishment, both governments appear to be striving to bring ties back on the rails, at least on the civilian side, even as Pakistan's military establishment is reaching out to Moscow.

On Friday, Washington hosted a meeting of the law enforcement and counterterrorism working group aimed at disrupting illicit networks in Pakistan that supply the components and financing for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik was told of "the danger these devices pose to Pakistan as well as Afghan, US, and coalition forces working to establish stability and security in Afghanistan."

While the usual commitments were made to address such issues, US concerns center around whether the Pakistani civilian establishment has the wherewithal to deliver on its pledges at a time the country's military has embarked on a path of courtship of Russia. While Rehman was visiting Washington, the country's military strongman Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, was on a four-day visit to Moscow, after several attempts to schedule a visit to the US had failed.