Advertisement

U.S. plans to boost civilian aid to Pakistan

The assistance would rise to $1.5 billion or more as part of a new Afghanistan strategy aimed at curbing support for insurgents.

March 24, 2009|Julian E. Barnes and Paul Richter

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to dramatically increase civilian aid to Pakistan as part of its new strategy on Afghanistan and the surrounding region, hoping the overture will lead to more effective steps by the Pakistani military to shut down insurgent sanctuaries, U.S. officials said.

A threefold increase in civilian aid would come on top of more than $10 billion in mostly military assistance since 2001. In addition to the aid, the administration will seek similar contributions from other nations, the officials said, describing the conclusions of a strategy review on condition of anonymity because it has not been made public.

The administration is expected this week to unveil the new strategy on Afghanistan, where commanders have said that 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops are unable to prevent Taliban fighters and other extremists from expanding their influence.

Top administration aides have briefed European counterparts on the strategy, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will attend an international conference on the war next week in the Netherlands. President Obama, who will soon meet with NATO allies, has sketched a new approach that lowers U.S. objectives and fixes an exit strategy.

The focus on Pakistan in the administration's new strategy reflects both frustration over years of cross-border attacks against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and the view that extremism, violence and instability have roots across the region.

It also underscores concerns among U.S. and allied officials about the stability of the government in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. Clinton and other U.S. officials brokered a compromise this month to defuse a political standoff over the country's judiciary, but they remain fearful that the country is deeply unstable.

Under the plan, the administration would boost Pakistani civilian aid to $1.5 billion a year or more, a move first proposed by Vice President Joe Biden when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In addition, the administration will seek major increases from China, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf, according to an administration official.

A dramatic boost in aid could help stabilize the civilian government and improve governance, the justice system and, importantly, schools, the officials said.

Officials also believe an increase in civilian aid will help the administration gain greater influence over the Pakistani military and its operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the border areas. The country's military now views any American threat to cut off military aid as empty, because the U.S. is so dependent on cooperation from Islamabad, officials said.

"All our military aid right now is unleveraged," said a government official. "Right now the Pakistan military thinks any threat to withdraw aid is a bluff."

Significant amounts of nonmilitary aid could encourage pro-Western public sentiment and increase pressure on the Pakistani military to act rather than risk a public backlash over the possible loss of the civilian aid, administration officials believe.

Besides sending aid to Pakistan, officials have said they will use the 17,000 new U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan to undermine extremist leaders by strengthening local groups and district governments, and will expand the Afghan armed forces.

Some analysts doubt that enlarging the flow of U.S. aid would overcome deeply rooted anti-Americanism in Pakistan, but they agreed that a different approach is needed.

The new money might strengthen American influence with the Pakistani armed forces but is unlikely to curtail the military's focus on rival India, said Arif Rafiq of the New York-based Pakistan Policy Blog. Because of that, the new aid "is not a game changer in itself," he said.

Nonetheless, the West must find ways to encourage the Pakistani public to become enthusiastic about government action against extremists.

"Yes, we need to make the money flow, but it is not as if our money is the deciding factor," said Frederick Barton, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "What is really deciding is: Do we have relationships beyond the military? Are we showing we are in touch with what the Pakistani people need and want?"

--

julian.barnes@latimes.com

paul.richter@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|