The Washington Post
Where do you draw the line between helpful American assistance to Pakistan in fighting the Taliban insurgency and counter-productive American meddling? Obama administration officials are weighing that balance as they prepare for a crucial visit to Washington this week by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
The administration is finalizing an ambitious package of aid measures, ranging from urgent financial assistance to counter-insurgency training for Pakistani troops at a U.S. base in Kuwait.
To relieve political pressure on Zardari, the administration has even discussed the possibility of joint U.S.-Pakistani oversight of the CIA's secret program of Predator strikes on Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan's tribal areas. But administration officials appear to have decided against any changes in the current approach, in which the Pakistani government privately okays the attacks but publicly criticizes them. Explained one official familiar with the program: "'Jointness' has been tried and it hasn't worked. These operations are designed to save American lives, and who wants to gamble at that table?"
As Washington frets about Zardari's political weakness, and debates a greater role for the opposition, his allies are pushing back--warning that American attempts to meddle in their country's internal politics may backfire.
"The more Americans get in the weeds of Pakistani politics, the less they will accomplish," warned a senior Pakistani official who supports Zardari. He described the growing U.S. pressure against Zardari as an example of "the Diem phenomenon," a reference to the U.S.-supported coup in 1963 against its former darling, South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem. That coup began a series of ultimately disastrous American attempts to steer Saigon politics and suppress the communist insurgency.
Zardari became Pakistan's president last year, with strong U.S. support, after the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto. Since then, despite Zardari's pro-American policies, U.S. enthusiasm for him has waned, to the point that administration officials have urged a greater role for his political rival, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
"There's too much discussion of who can fix the problem, rather than what should be done," complained the pro-Zardari senior Pakistani official.
The sensitivity in the Zardari camp to U.S. criticism illustrates a broader phenomenon in Pakistani politics. Politicians of every stripe are wary of offending Pakistani national pride by appearing too close to Washington--even when they know they need U.S. help. A cartoon on one anti-American website in Pakistan last week showed Zardari talking with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, another former American favorite who now gets low marks. The Afghan is telling his Pakistani counterpart: "The Americans used and ditched me. Now it's your turn to get screwed!"
To show that it's serious about supporting Pakistan, the administration is preparing a series of initiatives for this week's trilateral summit with Karzai and Zardari. According to knowledgeable sources, the list includes:
--quick delivery of $953 million in promised U.S. aid for Pakistan that has been delayed in the pipeline.
--a new Pakistani counter-terrorism strategy, drafted by Zardari's government and the Pakistani military after consultation with counter-insurgency experts on the staff of Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus.
--training for two battalions of Pakistani soldiers a month at a U.S. base in Kuwait that was used to ready American forces for combat in Iraq.
--an expanding Pakistani offensive against the Taliban, including a joint U.S.-Pakistani effort to suppress Taliban radio stations that have been operating in the tribal areas.
--a new agreement on third-country trade that transits Pakistan to Afghanistan. This "transit-trade" agreement would open the way for more shipments to and from India.
--a new framework for sharing information between the Pakistani and Afghan militaries and intelligence services.
--additional joint border posts for monitoring the Afghan-Pakistan frontier.
"We have a plan. We have the will. We are negotiating on getting the means," said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador here and one of the architects of the Islamabad-Washington alliance.
Haqqani argued that if Washington really wants the Pakistani army to move troops from the Indian border to the tribal areas, as U.S. officials often say, then it should get the Indians to reduce their military forces.
"It's time for Obama to put in a call to the Indians telling them, 'If you move some of your troops, they'll move theirs," Haqqani said. According to sources, Pakistani chief of staff Ashfaq Kiyani made just that promise in a recent meeting with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke