Islamabad: With the US facing the reality that its broad security partnership with Pakistan is over, US officials are seeking to salvage a more limited counterterrorism alliance that they acknowledge will complicate their ability to launch attacks against extremists and move supplies into Afghanistan.
The US will be forced to restrict drone strikes against militants, limit the number of its spies and soldiers on the ground, and spend more to transport supplies through Pakistan to allied troops in Afghanistan, US and Pakistani officials said. US aid to Pakistan will also be reduced sharply, they said.
“We’ve closed the chapter on the post-9/11 period,” said a senior US official, who requested anonymity to avoid antagonizing Pakistani officials. “ Pakistan has told us very clearly that they are re-evaluating the entire relationship.”
State of discontent: At least 100,000 people rallied in Karachi on Sunday to show support for opposition leader Imran Khan. Photo: Akhtar Soomro / Reuters
US officials say that the relationship will endure in some form, but that the contours will not be clear until Pakistan completes its wide-ranging review in the coming weeks.
The Barack Obama administration got a taste of the new terms immediately after a US airstrike killed 26 Pakistani troops near the Afghan border last month. Pakistan closed the supply routes into Afghanistan, boycotted a conference in Germany on the future of Afghanistan, and forced the US to shut its drone operations at a base in south-western Pakistan.
Mushahid Hussain Syed, the secretary-general of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, an opposition political party, summed up the anger and humiliation that he said many of his kinsmen harboured: “We feel like the US treats Pakistan like a rainy-day girlfriend.”
Whatever emerges will be a shadow of the sweeping strategic relationship that Richard C. Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, championed before his death a year ago. Officials from both countries filled more than a dozen committees to work on issues such as health, the rule of law and economic development.
All of that has been abandoned and will most likely be replaced by a much narrower set of agreements on core priorities—countering terrorists, stabilizing Afghanistan and ensuring the safety of Pakistan’s arsenal of more than 100 nuclear weapons—that Pakistan will want spelled out in writing and agreed to in advance.
Any new security framework will also require sharply increased transit fees for the thousands of trucks that take supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan, a bill that allied officials say could run into the tens of millions of dollars.
Officials from both Pakistan and the US anticipate steep and permanent reductions in US security aid, including the continued suspension of more than $1 billion in military assistance and equipment, frozen since the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.
The number of US military officers, enlisted troops and contractors in Pakistan has dropped to about 100, from about 400 more than a year ago, including scores of US trainers who have all been sent home. Pakistan is also restricting visas to dozens of other embassy personnel, from spies to aid workers.
Of the nearly two dozen US, western and Pakistani officials interviewed for this article, a few sought to put the best face on a worsening situation. With Pakistan taking a seat on the United Nations Security Council for two years beginning next month, these officials argued that too much was at stake to rupture ties completely. “It is better to have a predictable, more focused relationship than an incredibly ambitious out-of-control relationship,” said one western official.
But another Western diplomat put it more bluntly: “It’s a fairly gloomy picture.”
All of this comes as the Pakistani economy is in a free fall, civilian and military leaders are clashing over purported coup plots, and 150,000 Pakistani troops are stuck in a stalemate fighting a witches’ brew of militant groups along the Afghan border.
“These people are stuck there very badly,” said Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired lieutenant general and a former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Pakistan's main spy agency.
The number of attacks from homemade bombs throughout the country, but mostly focused in the border areas, skyrocketed to 1,036 through November this year, compared with 413 for all of 2007, according to the Pakistani military. More than 3,500 Pakistani soldiers and police have been killed since 2002.
The Obama administration is desperately trying to preserve the critical pieces of the relationship. General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, asked the Pakistani Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in a phone call on Wednesday if the relationship could be repaired, a person briefed on the conversation said. Kayani said that he thought it could, but that Pakistan needed some space.
©2011/The New York Times