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Monday, April 13, 2009

Rejecting American aid?

Talking to the media at the State Bank of Pakistan Multan auditorium on Saturday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that Pakistan would not accept any US aid that came with conditions that go against Pakistan's interests. He said: "Pakistan is a sovereign country and will not accept conditions that are against its interests and stature". Since the media knows that the Mullen-Holbrooke visit to Islamabad did not go well, the press has given the statement its top headline.

This is the first message to Washington after the US official duo had a rather icy reception in Islamabad, with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi throwing in his riposte to President Obama's reference to a "blank cheque", and what Mr Holbrooke had to say later in New Delhi about India in the context of Afghanistan. If there is a foreign policy red rag for Pakistan, it is India's presence in Afghanistan and what India is doing in Balochistan and the tribal areas and for which there is now mounting evidence.

The India factor again emerged when Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Lahore, Pervaiz Rathor, said Saturday that India was involved in attacks on the Sri Lankan team and the Manawan Police Training Centre. If he is right then Baitullah Mehsud is in cahoots with India because the Manawan incident was owned by the Taliban warlord. Also, the terrorists who attacked the Sri Lankan team have been traced to a jihadi militia located in southern Punjab. However, there is some information that India may be indirectly funding these activities which could provide the piece in the puzzle.

The TV channels tended to see the visit of our army chief General Ashfaq Kayani in the same context. Are we about to spurn the crucial economic assistance coming to us from the IMF and the Friends of Pakistan group of countries, all of them being subject to an American veto? The Foreign Office has been upset over the bill being moved in the US Congress to facilitate assistance to Pakistan. Some of the displeasure characterising Foreign Minister Qureshi's exchange with the Mullen-Holbrooke duo could indeed stem from a reading of the bill.

The Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement (PEACE) Act of 2009, introduced by Representative Howard Berman on April 2 says in sub-clause "J" that Pakistan is "not to support any person or group that conducts violence, sabotage, or other activities meant to instil fear or terror in India". Sub-clause "K" binds Pakistan "to ensure access of United States investigators to individuals suspected of engaging in worldwide proliferation of nuclear materials, and restrict such individuals from travel or any other activity that could result in further proliferation".

The direct reference to India, despite the fact that Pakistan has bilaterally assured India that it will not allow any terrorism in India from its soil, may have offended Islamabad, but the next indirect reference to Dr AQ Khan is certainly going to create hurdles in the US-Pak cooperation in the coming days. Of course, the sub-clause will bite only after Washington has made a move on Dr Khan and Pakistan has thwarted it. Sub-clauses "H" and "I" ask Pakistan to get rid of the "Taliban and Taliban-affiliated groups in Pakistan that support insurgents in Afghanistan".

If Pakistan sees these conditions as being hostile to its interests, it can turn the US assistance down, but others in the Friends of Pakistan group of countries may not favour this decision. Pakistan's spurning of the money currently pivotal to its economic survival will also depend very much on some "friends" coming to its help and matching the dollars that Pakistan will stand to lose. That the money is a large sum compared to assistance in the past is quite clear; and it is being made available in times of global financial duress. We would assume therefore that Pakistan is in the process of formulating a nuanced response that helps it influence US thinking by informing Washington of the complexities involved in tackling terrorism and the danger of letting India dictate the terms of US-Pakistan alliance.

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