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Saturday, May 2, 2009

US sends confusing signals to Pakistan

By Anwar Iqbal
Saturday, 02 May, 2009 12:21 AM PST
WASHINGTON: A day after President Barack Obama dismissed the Pakistani government as incompetent, his administration informed Islamabad that they would give $1.5 billion of economic assistance to Pakistan in the next few days.
The money, to be deposited in the State Bank of Pakistan early this month, will include $500 million of emergency assistance and $1 billion of held-up reimbursements from the coalition support fund.
US officials also told the Pakistani government that a bill to triple US assistance will be moved in the US Senate on Monday. It will bring annual assistance of $1.5 billion for a period of five years.
But while the Pakistani diplomats were learning this good news from US officials, President Obama shared a candid and frank assessment of the current Pakistani rulers during a news conference on Wednesday night.
‘The civilian government there right now is very fragile and don’t seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, healthcare, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people,’ he said.
‘As a consequence, it is very difficult for them to gain the support and the loyalty of their people,’ he said, summarily dismissing the government’s claim to a popular mandate.
But what President Obama’s top general for Pakistan and Afghanistan told an American television channel was even more damning.
Fox News reported on Thursday that Commander US Central Command Gen David Petraeus has told US officials the next two weeks were ‘critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive.’
Fox News also reported that Gen. Petraeus and senior administration officials believed the Pakistan Army was ‘superior’ to the civilian government.
The two statements and private assurances of support to the Pakistani government have contributed to the confusion and uncertainty that already overshadow US-Pakistan relations.
The statements are even more confusing because they were made less than four days before the scheduled arrival of President Ali Zardari on his first official visit to the US.
Diplomatic observers pointed out that President Obama ‘gave an F minus to the Pakistani leader’ days before a very important trilateral summit which includes the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
They noted that President Obama not only made negative remarks about the civilian government but also praised the Pakistani military as an institution capable of taking important decisions.
‘The Pakistani military is taking much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists,’ he said.
Mr Obama also said that he believed that the Pakistani military, and not the civilian administration, was capable of protecting the country’s nuclear weapons because it ‘recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands.’
Earlier, US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Michele Flournoy told US lawmakers that the civilians and political leaders in Pakistan were unable to confront the extremists because they ‘feared violent retaliation’ if they openly opposed them.
Meanwhile, the prestigious National Public Radio reported that Richard Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has had to reschedule planned appearances on US policy toward Pakistan before the Senate and House Foreign Affairs committees that were slated this week.
The report quoted ‘unidentified conflicts’ for the delay. Such developments are causing wild speculations in Washington about the future of the Zardari government.
Some analysts say that the US administration was sending signals to the Pakistani military that Washington would not oppose any unexpected action against the civilian governments.
Others say that these are merely pressure tactics aimed at spurring Islamabad to expedite its military action against the militants.
Another group insists that the statements are just statements, expressing US frustration with the current situation in Pakistan and contain no hidden threat.
But they could not explain why the US president used the same statement, in which he practically read out a charge-sheet against the civilian government, to praise the military.

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