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Mar 24, 2010

United States, Pakistan seek to turn around ties

WASHINGTON, March 24 (Reuters) – The United States and Pakistan sought on Wednesday to overcome years of mistrust, with Washington promising to speed up overdue military payments as the two increase cooperation in tackling militants.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of having a new partnership that "stands the test of time" while her Pakistani counterpart said he was a "happy man" after a day of talks that covered issues from security to energy and water.

"It is a new day," Clinton said, but she predicted a bumpy road. "Our countries have had our misunderstandings and disagreements in the past, and there are sure to be more disagreements in the future."

Pakistan is an important U.S. ally in the battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban, particularly as Washington sends more troops to neighboring Afghanistan to fight a war weighing heavily on President Barack Obama’s political legacy.

One bone of contention has been a delay in about $2 billion in military aid owed by the United States to Pakistan under a program called the Coalition Support Fund.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said a "substantial" amount of the money would be paid by the end of April, with Washington promising the remainder by the end of June, coincidentally the same time as an IMF performance review is due of its $7.6 billion loan package for Pakistan.

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That IMF review leads to a disbursement of money under the loan for Pakistan but there has to be evidence that Islamabad has met financial targets and has enough cash flow to meet the loan obligations.

Qureshi also said the two agreed to fast-track pending Pakistani requests for military equipment as the two increase security cooperation and Clinton said they would work on a multiyear security package.

MILITARY PRAISE

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised Pakistan for increased coordination over stabilizing Afghanistan, including the recent arrest of a key Afghan Taliban commander in a joint American-Pakistani raid in Karachi.

"It has really been extraordinary, in my view, seeing what Pakistan has done over the last, really, more than a year in terms of becoming engaged, in terms of their operations, in terms of understanding that they now face an existential threat," Gates said.

Qureshi spoke of the sacrifices felt by his country with repeated attacks and suicide bombings against civilians and an economy in turmoil because of the violence.

"Yet our resolve remains undiminished because it is a matter of standing up for your principles and facing the consequences that come in its wake," he said.

Pakistan’s delegation sent a 56-page document to the Americans ahead of this week’s meetings, giving their view of future relations and asking for more helicopters and pilotless drones as well as civilian nuclear cooperation.

Pakistan expert Bruce Riedel said the Americans were happy with recent military successes but this had ironically underscored that Islamabad could do a lot more.

NUCLEAR COOPERATION?

"There will be some horse-trading. We owe them helicopters but I would be very surprised if we gave them anything on the nuclear front," said Riedel, a former CIA analyst now with the Brookings Institution think tank.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan wants civilian nuclear cooperation with the United States and is pushing for the same kind of deal that its rival India negotiated for years.

"We hope nondiscriminatory access to vital energy resources will be available to us so that we can pursue our economic and industrial development plans," said Qureshi in his opening statement, a reference to nuclear energy capability that Pakistan wants to boost to resolve its power crisis.

But the United States is reluctant to discuss such cooperation. Clinton sidestepped questions on the issue except to say that the Obama administration was prepared to discuss "whatever issues" the Pakistani delegation raised.

Such negotiations would be lengthy. It took years to negotiate such a deal with India and require consensus approval from both the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group and the U.S. Congress.

The United States is also cautious due to an uproar created by allegations that a disgraced Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, transferred nuclear secrets to Iraq and Iran.

Despite rumblings over security assistance and nuclear issues, both sides sought to show a united front with the delegations intermingled rather than seated on opposite sides for the official meetings as is often the case.

Last year, the U.S. Congress passed legislation for a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan over the next five years, which includes funding for water, energy and other projects.

Qureshi urged increased trade and market access to the United States. Clinton said she was looking into it but gave no specifics. (Additional reporting by Deborah Charles and Phil Stewart; editing by Paul Simao and Will Dunham)




Mar 24, 2010

U.S., Pakistan seek to reverse caustic ties

WASHINGTON, March 24 (Reuters) – The United States and Pakistan sought on Wednesday to reverse years of mistrust, predicting a bumpy path to counter anti-American sentiment amid tensions on issues from nuclear cooperation to security.

"It is the start of something new," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the beginning of two days of meetings with its nuclear-armed ally.

But she added: "Our countries have had our misunderstandings and disagreements in the past, and there are sure to be more disagreements in the future."

Pakistan is an important U.S. ally in the battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban, particularly as Washington sends more troops to neighboring Afghanistan to fight a war weighing heavily on President Barack Obama’s political legacy.

"Such a partnership, we are convinced, is good for Pakistan, good for America and good for international peace, security and prosperity," Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in his opening remarks.

"Now is the time to look forward," he added.

The "strategic dialogue" between the nuclear-armed allies is likely to produce several signed agreements, from building dams and roads to power projects for energy-starved Pakistan, as well as additional security commitments.

In public, both sides sought to show a united front with the delegations intermingled rather than seated on opposite sides for the official meetings as is often the case.

However, behind closed doors both planned to raise a host of tough issues. The United States wants Pakistan to sustain

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NUCLEAR TENSIONS

There are also tensions over how far the United States is prepared to go in its pledge for a closer relationship, with Pakistan pushing for a similar civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Washington that its arch-rival India has.

"We hope nondiscriminatory access to vital energy resources will be available to us so that we can pursue our economic and industrial development plans," said Qureshi in his opening statement, a reference to nuclear energy capability that Pakistan wants to boost to resolve its power crisis.

Pakistan’s delegation sent a 56-page document to the Americans ahead of this week’s meetings, giving their view of future relations and asking for more helicopters and pilotless drones as well as civilian nuclear cooperation.

"What is good for India, should be good for Pakistan," said Salman Bashir, Pakistan’s foreign secretary.

The United States, however, is reticent over any nuclear deal with Pakistan, which took years to negotiate with India and requires consensus approval from both the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group as well as the U.S. Congress.

Washington is also cautious due to an uproar created by allegations that a disgraced Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, transferred nuclear secrets to Iraq and Iran.

SECURITY FOCUS

Pakistan’s Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is also a key player in the meetings and was sandwiched between the head of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates for the State Department talks.

Clinton repeated U.S. praise of Pakistan’s military actions, especially the arrest of a key Afghan Taliban commander in a joint U.S.-Pakistani raid in Karachi earlier this year.

She said thousands of Pakistanis had lost their lives to extremist attacks and the United States was fully behind its ally in the struggle to fight militants.

"To the people and government of Pakistan, the United States pledges its full support," she said, acknowledging strong anti-American sentiment the Obama administration is struggling to turn around.

In its 56-page wish list sent to Washington, Islamabad repeated a demand for the kind of "shoot-to-kill" pilotless drones being used by the United States to target militants as well as other security and economic assistance.

Last year, the U.S. Congress passed legislation for a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan over the next five years, and Islamabad is looking for more specifics on projects and timetables over when the money will arrive.

Qureshi repeated a Pakistani demand for increased trade and market access to the United States. "Economic opportunities in Pakistan can fight extremism," he said. (Additional reporting by Deborah Charles; editing by Paul Simao)




Mar 24, 2010

Factbox: Key facts in U.S.-Pakistan relations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top U.S. and Pakistani officials meet on Wednesday as part of joint efforts to bolster what has often been a fractious relationship.

Here are some facts about the importance and problem areas of the relationship, what aid has been given, what the Pakistanis want and what is to come:

Mar 24, 2010

Q+A: Aid to Pakistan is complicated business for U.S

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. and Pakistani officials meet in Washington on Wednesday to discuss everything from security cooperation to how best to deliver aid for water, power, agriculture and other projects.

The United States is the biggest foreign donor to nuclear-armed Pakistan but that aid — both military and civilian — has often been a source of mistrust in the relationship, with suspicion over U.S. intentions.

Mar 24, 2010

U.S., Pakistan seek to turn page on caustic ties

WASHINGTON, March 24 (Reuters) – The United States and Pakistan hold high-level talks on Wednesday aimed at reversing decades of mistrust, but tensions over issues from nuclear cooperation to security are still expected to taint relations.

The "strategic dialogue" between the nuclear-armed allies is likely to produce several signed agreements, from building dams and roads to power projects for energy-starved Pakistan, as well as additional security commitments.

But the main aim of the meetings, chaired by the foreign ministers and attended also by defense chiefs, is to build on recent military successes by Islamabad against the Taliban while at the same time improve ties and turn around anti-American sentiment.

"We want this dialogue to be a results-oriented dialogue," said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at an event at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also urged relations to move to a "deeper level" but said she did not expect to "wave a magic wand" and end years of mistrust.

"It doesn’t happen overnight," she told Pakistan’s Dunya TV. "It is a process, but it’s such an important process, and we very much believe in it."

Pakistan’s delegation sent a document to the Americans ahead of this week’s meetings, giving their view of future relations and asking for more helicopters and pilotless drones as well as a wish to have a similar civilian nuclear arrangement that archrival India has with Washington.

"What is good for India, should be good for Pakistan," said Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, when asked whether Islamabad wanted a civilian nuclear agreement.

"The priority is energy, which means, energy comprehensively," he said, adding that the immediate focus was how to tackle blackouts in Pakistan which have disrupted the economy and frayed public patience.

U.S. RETICENCE

The United States, however, is reticent over any nuclear deal with Pakistan, which took years to negotiate with India and requires consensus approval from both the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group as well as the U.S. Congress.

Washington is also cautious due to an uproar created by allegations that a disgraced Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, transferred nuclear secrets to Iraq and Iran.

U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, and Clinton both played down any talks on nuclear cooperation, indicating this could be a source of tensions in two days of talks.

"Let’s just see how it develops," said Holbrooke.

Pakistan’s Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is also a key player in the Washington meetings and Holbrooke said the military was crucial to any future relationship with Pakistan.

Pakistan is a key ally in the U.S. fight against al Qaeda and to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan, where the United States is sending in an additional 30,000 troops to fight the Taliban.

Washington has praised Pakistan’s recent military actions, especially the arrest of a key Afghan Taliban commander in a joint U.S.-Pakistani raid in Karachi earlier this year.

In its 56-page wish list to Washington, Islamabad repeated a demand for the kind of "shoot-to-kill" pilotless drones being used by the United States to target militants as well as other security and economic assistance.

Last year, the U.S. Congress passed legislation for a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan over the next five years and Islamabad is looking for more specifics on projects and timetables over when the money will arrive. (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)




Mar 24, 2010
via Tales from the Trail

General Kayani steals the spotlight at Pakistani embassy party

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Pakistan’s foreign minister heads his country’s delegation to Washington this week for high-level talks, but there was no mistaking who was the star at a reception at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night: Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader’s ear. Pakistani Foreign Minister  Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also drew those eager for photographic souvenirs of the occasion, but not such a feeding frenzy as that around Kayani.

Mar 24, 2010

Pakistan comes with specific wish list for U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Pakistan has given a wish list to Washington ahead of high-level meetings, pushing for talks on nuclear cooperation as well as pilotless drones and helicopters, said U.S. and Pakistani officials on Tuesday.

Islamabad’s 56-page document, set to be discussed in talks in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday, also outlines other priorities such as water and electricity requirements for energy-starved Pakistan as it struggles with power cuts.

Mar 23, 2010

Q&A-Aid to Pakistan is complicated business for U.S.

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) – Top U.S. and Pakistani officials meet in Washington on Wednesday to discuss a range of issues, from security cooperation to how best to deliver aid for water, power, agriculture and other projects.

The United States is the biggest foreign donor to nuclear-armed Pakistan but that aid — both military and civilian — has often been a source of mistrust in the relationship, with suspicion over U.S. intentions.

Here are some questions and answers on aid to Pakistan:

HOW MUCH AID HAS WASHINGTON GIVEN SINCE 2002

Since the September 2001 attacks against the United States, Washington has given more than $15 billion in aid to Pakistan, with more than two-thirds of that for security-related work. Washington wants Pakistan to help hunt for al Qaeda leaders — thought to be sheltering along the Pakistan/Afghan border — and to stop Islamist militants from crossing over into Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces there.

WHAT DOES SECURITY AID AMOUNT TO, WHAT KIND OF ITEMS ARE COVERED?

Security-related funding requests for this year amounted to about $2.5 billion and was distributed among several U.S. funds, according to congressional documents. The United States has also provided F-16 fighter jets and is handing over a refurbished U.S. frigate to Pakistan by August. Washington also plans to send 1,000 laser-guided bomb kits to Pakistan this month and is considering additional arms sales to help the Pakistani air force crack down on insurgents in the Afghan border region. The United States has promised to provide surveillance drones to Pakistan but has refused so far to offer sensitive technology for those pilotless aircraft.

HOW MUCH CIVILIAN AID IS IN THE PIPELINE?

Congress passed legislation last October for a $7.5 billion civilian aid package for Pakistan over the next five years. Congress has appropriated $1.45 billion for 2010 and the State Department submitted its plan for spending this last month.

WHAT IS THE PAKISTANI PUBLIC’S VIEW OF THE AID?

When the $7.5 billion package was announced last year, it was met with great suspicion in Pakistan, whose military said too many conditions were attached to the funds. The public was also deeply critical of the money and the virulence of the anger took U.S. officials by surprise.

WHAT ARE THE PRIORITIES FOR CIVILIAN AID?

Boosting energy capacity in Pakistan is a major push, with daily power cuts weighing on the economy and public patience. Other priorities are water, agriculture, health and education.

Another reason for focusing on power is to ensure Pakistan does not turn to U.S. foes such as Iran, which signed a pipeline deal with Islamabad recently. This is not on the official agenda of this week’s talks in Washington but experts say it will be the "elephant in the room" during energy talks.

IS THERE A SHIFT IN HOW AID IS NOW HANDLED?

Yes, there is. The Obama administration wants to steer away from so-called big box contractors popular with the Bush administration as well as U.S.-based NGOS. The plan now is to funnel a lot of aid via local NGOs and directly through the Pakistani civilian government. The hope is this approach will build local capacity.

However, many local NGOS do not yet have the ability to handle big amounts of money and Congress demands strict monitoring and accountability of U.S. funds. While there is still a focus on going local, the plan is now more of a "hybrid approach", with both U.S. and Pakistani NGOs being used as well as the regional and national government.

HOW IS U.S. ENSURING FUNDS ARE ACCOUNTED FOR?

Up to 15 Pakistani accounting firms have been hired to do about 70 surveys of NGOs and government departments before money is actually awarded. So far, 20 of these "pre-award" surveys have been done and 20 more are underway, said a senior U.S. official.

WHAT DOES CONGRESS THINK ABOUT THE ADMINISTRATION’S PLANS?

Lawmakers complain the spending plan sent to Congress last month was too skimpy. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar raised their concerns in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this month and questioned whether the money would be used in a way that most effectively improved Pakistani lives.

A senior U.S. official said the Obama administration was working hard to be responsive to Pakistani needs. She said it was difficult getting the right oversight mechanisms in place and it took time to negotiate with the Pakistani government.

DOES THE U.S. HAVE ENOUGH STAFF TO DEAL WITH AID?

Criticism has been robust that the Obama administration does not have the capacity to handle such large amounts of money. A senior U.S. official said there were about 60 USAID staff in Pakistan with a plan to increase that to 94 by the end of next year or double it to 120.

WHAT DO U.S. AID GROUPS THINK OF THE PACKAGE?

U.S. aid groups mostly applaud the new focus but say it will be hard to show quick results needed to stem anti-American sentiment and sustain U.S. support. They have also fought hard not to have aid seen as an extension of the administration’s counter-insurgency strategy in the region which puts humanitarian workers at risk. "It is important that those receiving resources are seen as working for the people and not a particular political objective," said Sam Worthington, president of the aid group InterAction, which represents about 150 groups in the United States.

WHY IS THE AID SEEN AS IMPORTANT?

The aid program is seen as an important tool for the long-term stabilization of Pakistan and a way to help turn around anti-American sentiment. "This is the ultimate test of the administration’s smart power," said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. (Editing by Philip Barbara)




Mar 22, 2010

Key facts in U.S.-Pakistan relations

WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) – Top U.S. and Pakistani officials meet on Wednesday as part of joint efforts to bolster what has often been a fractious relationship between the nuclear-armed nations. [nN22195688]

Here are some facts on the strategic nature of the relationship, where some of the problem areas are, what aid has been given and what is to come:

STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE:

Pakistan is of huge strategic importance for the United States as it seeks to defeat al Qaeda and cripple the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden — the mastermind of the September 2001 attacks against the United States — is believed to be hiding somewhere along the lawless Afghan border and Pakistan is a main U.S. ally in its anti-terrorism battle.

The Afghan Taliban’s leaders also have sought refuge in Pakistan and Washington has been pressing Islamabad for months to do more to reel them in. Washington has praised the recent arrest of the Afghan Taliban’s military commander in Karachi in a joint U.S.-Pakistan raid. Some access has been granted to him but Washington would like more.

Washington needs Pakistan as it seeks to stabilize Afghanistan, where President Barack Obama is sending in an additional 30,000 troops in the coming months.

Pakistan also is a transit point in getting in supplies for the U.S. military in landlocked Afghanistan, with a big volume of goods being trucked from the port in Karachi.

Pakistan also shares a border with Iran, with whom Washington has tense relations, particularly over Tehran’s nuclear plans. The United States is nervously watching whether energy-starved Pakistan will follow through on an agreement with Iran for a natural gas pipeline. U.S. officials are reluctant to talk publicly about this, hoping the deal will fall apart.

SECURITY COOPERATION

Security cooperation is key between the two countries and much of this week’s meetings in Washington will focus on how to improve that, from intelligence-sharing to more equipment given by the Untied States to its ally. The United States has provided F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad and Pakistan’s navy chief was in Washington last week to discuss the handover in August of a refurbished U.S. frigate, the USS McInerney. Earlier this month, Washington said it would deliver 1,000 laser-guided bomb kits to Pakistan within weeks and is considering additional arms sales to help the Pakistani air force crack down on insurgents in the Afghan border region.

KEY IRRITANTS

There is mistrust on both sides on a range of issues, from security cooperation to how aid is delivered. Many Pakistanis feel the United States is only a reliable partner when its own strategic interests are at stake, citing previous cases of abandonment, particularly after the Soviets left Afghanistan.

Most polls show a majority of Pakistanis hold an unfavorable view of the U.S. government and are suspicious of its intentions. Pakistan’s government bristles when Washington complains it has not done enough to tackle militants, countering it has "already done too much" in a war that has killed more than 2,000 soldiers and weighed on the economy.

There is also public anger because of civilian deaths from U.S. pilotless drone attacks in northwest Pakistan. Pakistan’s government privately allows the attacks but this support is not voiced publicly because of a feared backlash at the polls.

A recent source of U.S. irritation has been delays in granting visas for U.S. officials wanting to audit how aid is spent. Pakistan, for its part, complains about increased security checks for its citizens visiting the United States. A group of parliamentarians from the tribal areas cut short a trip to the United States this month after refusing to have full-body scans at a Washington, D.C., airport.

AID PROGRAM

The United States is Pakistan’s biggest aid donor and has given about $15 billion in direct aid and military reimbursements since 2002, about two-thirds of it security related. While Pakistan is being propped up by an $11.3 billion International Monetary Fund loan, a new U.S. aid package triples non-military assistance to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year over the next five years. The spending plan is still being worked out but the flow of money is being held up as the Obama administration changes how it distributes that aid. Instead of largely using U.S. contractors and NGOs, it wants to funnel much of the assistance via the Pakistani government and domestic NGOs with the hope this will bolster local capacity.

INDIA

Pakistan wants the United States to do more to help resolve tensions with India and is concerned about the increasing role of its rival in Afghanistan. Islamabad also wants the United States to press India to resolve the core dispute between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, the divided region of Kashmir. India is opposed to outside involvement.

(Additional reporting by Islamabad bureau; Editing by Bill Trott)




Mar 12, 2010
via Tales from the Trail

Is Holbrooke’s “bulldozer” style working?

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Dubbed the “bulldozer” for his tough guy tactics in Balkan negotiations, U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has been making waves in South Asia recently.

U.S. embassies in New Delhi and Kabul have been scrambling over the past week to deal with local fallout from statements made by Washington’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    • About Sue

      "Sue Pleming covers foreign policy, with a focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. She joined Reuters in London in 1990 and was based in Brussels before moving to Washington, where her most recent post was covering the State Department. She started her journalism career in southern Africa and has also done reporting stints in Somalia, Rwanda and Burundi."
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