The US seems to be working overtime to seek closer ties with Pakistan. In order to prove that it has a love affair with Pakistan which goes far beyond US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, it has offered $2 billion military aid to Pakistan staggered over a period of five years from 2012 which shows its commitment for a long-haul relationship as against its previous conduct of using and abandoning Pakistan as and when needed. The military aid will flow after Congressional assent but USA is now demanding to further strengthen the presence of its CIA in Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the U.S. is pushing to expand a secret CIA effort to help Pakistan target militants in their havens near the Afghan border, according to senior officials, as the White House seeks new ways to prod Islamabad into more aggressive action against groups allied with al Qaeda.
The push comes as relations between Washington and Islamabad have soured over U.S. impatience with the slow pace of Pakistani strikes against militants who routinely attack U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has said he will begin to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in July, increasing the urgency to show progress in the nine-year war against the Taliban. The U.S. asked Pakistan in recent weeks to allow additional Central Intelligence Agency officers and special operations military trainers to enter the country as part of Washington’s efforts to intensify pressure on militants.
The requests have so far been rebuffed by Islamabad, which remains extremely wary of allowing a larger U.S. ground presence in Pakistan, illustrating the precarious nature of relations between Washington and its wartime ally. The number of CIA personnel in Pakistan has grown substantially in recent years. The exact number is highly classified. The push for more forces reflects, in part, the increased need for intelligence to support the CIA drone program that has killed hundreds of militants with missile strikes. The additional officers could help Pakistani forces reach targets drones can’t.
Simultaneously, Pakistani PM made a startling revelation on Friday saying that drone attacks were never approved by Pakistan as President Musharraf only approved drone surveillance. He implied or stopped short of saying that these attacks had the tacit approval of his own government.
According to The Wall Street Journal, there are currently about 900 U.S. military personnel in Pakistan, 600 of which are providing flood relief and 150 of which are assigned to the training mission. The Obama administration has been ramping up pressure on Islamabad in recent weeks to attack militants after months of publicly praising Pakistani efforts. The CIA has intensified drone strikes in Pakistan, and the military in Afghanistan has carried out cross-border helicopter raids, underlining U.S. doubts Islamabad can be relied upon to be more aggressive. Officials have even said they were going to stop asking for Pakistani help with the U.S.’s most difficult adversary in the region, the North Waziristan-based Haqqani network, because it was unproductive.
When senior Pakistani officials visited Washington this week, Obama administration officials signaled they are willing to push for a long-term military aid package. But they also have made clear to Pakistani officials they expect tangible results, and they threatened that current cash payments to Pakistan could be reduced if things don’t improve in tribal areas such as North Waziristan.
The current efforts to expand CIA presence are meant to expand intelligence collection and facilitate more aggressive Pakistani-led actions on the ground. Some U.S. officials, however, remain hopeful that Islamabad will allow a greater covert presence that could include CIA paramilitary forces.
U.S. military forces on the ground remain a red line for Islamabad because if the Pakistan public became aware of U.S. military forces conducting combat operations on Pakistani territory, it would wipe out popular support for fighting the militants in the tribal areas. Whether covert CIA forces would cross that line however, remains an open question.