News / Asia

Pakistan Hopes Cooperation Wins More US Aid

A high-level delegation from Pakistan comes to Washington this week for talks with diplomatic and defense officials.  Islamabad hopes its crackdown on Islamic militants will both build trust and win new help from Washington.

A high-powered delegation led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kayani is sitting down with their American counterparts.  

Woodrow Wilson Center Asia Program Director Robert Hathaway says a wide range of issues is on the table, ranging from counter-terrorism to education.  

"They would like faster assistance, more extensive assistance for development, for help in the energy sector, the education sector, public health - a whole range of needs which we have talked about wanting to help them and indeed have promised to help them," he said. "And from their perspective the money has not come as quickly as they would like," said Hathaway.

The United States has repeatedly called for Pakistan to do more to rein in militants using the country as a base from which to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan.  In U.S. eyes, Pakistan has been slow to do so.  But recently Pakistani officials have nabbed several high-level Afghan Taliban leaders, including operations chief Mullah Baradar.

Analysts say Pakistan will also likely want to talk about possible negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban.  Pakistan also wants faster reimbursement for expenses it has incurred in fighting terrorism.

But what has raised some eyebrows is a report, appearing in Pakistani and Western media, that Pakistan will ask for a deal for a civilian nuclear power program, similar to one that India reached with the United States.

Power shortages are frequent across Pakistan and energy needs are acute.  Nuclear power could help ease those woes.

When recently questioned about such a possibility, U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke was noncommittal.

"We have a very broad and complex agenda in these talks, and this is the first strategic dialogue at - ever at this level, and the first of this administration," said Holbrooke.  "And we are going to listen carefully to whatever the Pakistanis say," he added.

Marvin Weinbaum at the Middle East Institute says Islamabad's new crackdown on militancy has emboldened Pakistan, already jealous of India for its nuclear deal with Washington, to ask for a nuclear agreement of its own.

"It has of course been very anxious for this for some time but did not feel that it had any leverage," he noted.  "But now, given what it sees as its willingness to cooperate at a level with the United States that it had not earlier, that it has earned consideration, and that this is surely deliverable that the United States has within its power to give," said Weinbaum.

Georgetown University Pakistan affairs scholar Christine Fair points out that previous U.S. aid packages have not proved enticing enough to Islamabad to ensure its continuing cooperation.  She argues a nuclear deal could give Washington leverage with Islamabad, so long as stringent conditions about terrorism and proliferation are attached.

"In some sense, by conferring this deal upon them we basically legitimize their program," she said.  "And we offer them a carrot that it will be really hard for them to resist it.  So that is the carrot.  The stick, of course, is that you do not get this carrot unless you comply with these conditions," said Fair.

But Robert Hathaway says the proliferation of nuclear-weapons technology by Pakistani scientists, led by A.Q. Khan, makes such a deal unlikely at this juncture.

"I think most people in the United States who follow these issues would argue that the partnership, the relationship between Pakistan and the United States is not at a place yet where it is realistic to think about the negotiation of such a deal," said Hathaway.

Most analysts say deals in agriculture and trade, already under discussion, could be announced, coupled with a new publicly stated joint resolve to battle militant extremism.

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