WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has refused for the first time to declare that Pakistan is making progress toward ending alleged military support for Islamic militant groups or preventing al Qaida, the Afghan Taliban or other extremists from staging attacks in Afghanistan.
Even so, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has quietly informed Congress that shes waived the legal restrictions that would have blocked some $2 billion in U.S. economic and military aid to Pakistan. Disbursing the funds, she said in an official notice, is important to the national security interests of the United States.
Clintons decision illustrates how far the administration apparently has determined that it must go, after a near-breakdown in relations, to ensure Pakistans cooperation in the uphill U.S. effort to prevent Afghanistan collapsing into all-out civil war when American-led international combat forces complete a withdraw by the end of 2014.
Some experts, however, warned that the move might backfire. The waivers could encourage a belief among Pakistani commanders that their cooperation is so crucial that Washington will continue overlooking the Pakistani militarys refusal to end what U.S. officials charge is its support for Afghan insurgent groups or to shutter militant sanctuaries, they said.
The army is going to think that no matter how angry the Americans are at them, they are utterly indispensable and they can violate in any way, shape or form U.S. law and the United States will massage its law to accommodate them, said assistant professor Christine Fair, an expert at Georgetown University. Thats how they are going to read this.
Pir Zubair Shah, an expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, said Clintons decision might be intended as a warning to Pakistan that aid could be withheld next year if it doesnt end the suspected collusion between its military and its chief spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, and extremist groups.
It can be a signal that . . . next time we wont apply a waiver and will block the aid, he said.
In a statement to McClatchy, the State Department said that despite recent challenges in relations with Pakistan, there has been progress toward rebuilding ties. It called the aid funds a critical component of U.S. efforts to continue to build a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan.
We believe we should continue building on these steps and that our civilian and security assistance is a critical component of this effort," the statement said.
Islamabad vehemently denies charges by top U.S. officials that the army-run ISI is aiding the Afghan Taliban and allied groups, such as the Haqqani network, as part of a strategy aimed at preventing rival India from gaining influence in Afghanistan after international troops withdraw.
In her Sept. 13 notices, Clinton informed Congress that she was waiving provisions of the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act and the State Departments 2012 budget requiring that she certify that Islamabad has met certain conditions before some $2 billion in economic, military and counter-terrorism assistance can be disbursed.
Pakistan was required 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 U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.