Pakistani Army Pleads for Respect

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by Oracle, Jun 10, 2011.

  1. Oracle

    Oracle New Member

    Mar 31, 2010
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    Bangalore, India
    Pakistan's army leadership, under mounting domestic pressure since a U.S. strike team infiltrated its soil to kill Osama bin Laden, issued a rare defensive response to domestic critics Thursday, offering to reduce its reliance on U.S. military aid and training and setting strict limits on American intelligence operations within the country.

    Since the May 2 raid, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and his inner circle have had to contend with American demands for more cooperation in the fight against Islamist militants while trying to reassure soldiers who are openly questioning the rationale for Pakistan's tight military embrace with the U.S.

    Pakistan's opposition politicians have joined the fray, spurring public disenchantment with the military, for decades the dominant political and economic powerbroker in the country.

    The roughly 1,000-word statement—at various points apologetic, belligerent and strident—was the clearest indication to date that in striking a balance between the competing demands, Pakistan's military leaders are looking to first assuage their own people, even if that means scaling back ties to the U.S.

    The statement also offered an indication of the crisis now gripping Pakistan's military and the lengths its leaders are potentially willing to go to restore public respect. The statement also said the army would be willing to divert U.S. military aid to help improve the lot of ordinary Pakistanis.

    The military's attempt to court the public faced an immediate challenge Thursday when a video emerged of paramilitary soldiers in Karachi shooting dead an unarmed teenager who was pleading for his life. It was aired nonstop by television news channels and overshadowed the military's statement.

    Gen. Kayani in recent weeks has attempted to rally his troops, going from garrison to garrison to explain that he shares their sense of humiliation over the raid but that now is no time to jettison ties with the U.S.

    "I felt betrayed by the U.S. military action as I have been involved deeply in developing strategic relations with the United States," he told senior field officers at Islamabad's National Defense University last month, according to people who attended the event.

    After the speech, a colonel in attendance pointedly asked: "How can we trust the United States?"


    On Thursday, Gen. Kayani told senior commanders the army was responding to that sense of frustration, according to the military's statement. He said the army had "drastically cut" the number of U.S. troops stationed in Pakistan and ended U.S. training of Pakistani soldiers.

    Gen. Kayani also told commanders that U.S. military aid for Pakistan should be diverted to help the economy, signaling that he no longer sees it as essential. Pakistan said it received $8.6 billion in U.S. military assistance in the past decade through an American program meant to reimburse the country for money spent fighting militants. The figure is slightly lower than numbers provided Thursday by the Defense Department.

    Gen. Kayani, however, said that only $2.6 billion of that sum went to the armed forces and the rest was spent on budget support for Pakistan's cash-strapped government.

    The Defense Department said Pakistan had requested the number of U.S. military trainers in Pakistan be reduced. It didn't provide numbers, but U.S. officials have previously said troops would be cut from a high of about 330 last year to slightly more than 200, and some training operations were being curtailed.

    Thursday's statement also indicated Gen. Kayani is unlikely to heed U.S. demands for expanded cooperation in the fight against militants. He told commanders Pakistan won't be pressured to agree to a timetable to attack North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal area that borders Afghanistan and is home to a slew of militant groups, including one at the top of the U.S. target list, the Haqqani network.

    Gen. Kayani also told commanders that U.S. drone strikes against militants in the tribal areas "were not acceptable under any circumstances." Pakistan has always publicly condemned the program while privately acquiesing and, at times, assisting it. Since the bin Laden raid, Gen. Kayani has faced widespread criticism among his ranks for letting the drone strikes continue.

    U.S. reaction to the Pakistani statement was muted. American officials said they understood Gen. Kayani needed "breathing space" to get his own people back on his side. "The government has been in a difficult spot domestically since the bin Laden raid, and the Pakistani military is probably tying to re-establish some of the credibility it perceived it lost," said a U.S. official in Washington.

    Some Pakistani officers fear that anger over the bin Laden raid could make lower-ranking soldiers more amenable to Islamist influences. One group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has roots in the Middle East, clandestinely dropped pamphlets in military cantonments after the bin Laden raid calling for officers to establish an Islamic caliphate.

    "It is a slap in the respected officers' faces that on May 2 American helicopters intruded in the dark of night and barged into a house like thieves," the pamphlet read. It added: "It could not have been possible without the acquiescence of your high officials."

    Military officers said it was highly unlikely the pamphlets could have been distributed without assistance from in the ranks.

    The U.S. has assiduously courted Gen. Kayani—a stand-out student in the 1980s at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.—since he took control of the army in 2007.

    Many U.S. officials say Pakistan is supporting Afghan Taliban factions in the hope of using them to maintain influence there once the Americans leave.

    Pakistanis are insulted by such talk. They point out that they have caught numerous al Qaeda members. A third of Pakistan's army is arrayed along the border with Afghanistan fighting local Taliban militants, a campaign in which almost 3,000 Pakistani soldiers have died. Many generals, Gen. Kayani included, say the nation is now critically exposed to attack from archrival India on its eastern flank.

    In the field, soldiers say they are angry at the lack of recognition from the U.S. for their losses fighting militants.

    "We are fighting for the whole world. It's very bad it's not recognized," said Lt. Col. Fazal Rabbi, a helicopter pilot with the Frontier Corps.

    U.S. pressure to do more, which would inevitably mean pulling more soldiers off the border with India, has deepened Gen. Kayani's concerns. "The Americans," said one senior Pakistani officer, "talk to us like they don't give a damn if Indian soldiers can walk into Pakistan."

    In much of his dealings with his American interlocutors, Gen. Kayani chain smokes and nods but never says much, according to a former official who worked with him.

    Some U.S. officials acknowledge that the general sees the Americans as short-timers in the region. "We're like high school kids talking about what do Friday night," said a senior U.S. military officer. "He's planning what he's going to do after college."

    Gen. Kayani's skepticism was summed up at a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in October.

    After Mr. Obama pressed him on the need to move against Taliban sanctuaries, Gen. Kayani handed over a 13-page document outlining the distance between Washington's short-term focus, which centers on getting out of Afghanistan, and Pakistan's long-term challenges of living in an unstable region alongside a more populous and powerful India, say U.S. and Pakistani officials briefed on the meeting.


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