By Bradley Klapper
WASHINGTON: The United States has quietly decided to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan that was suspended when relations between the two countries disintegrated over the covert raid that killed Osama bin Laden and deadly U.S. airstrikes against Pakistani soldiers.
Officials and congressional aides said ties have improved enough to allow the money to flow again.
American and NATO supply routes to Afghanistan are open. Controversial U.S. drone strikes are down. The United States and Pakistan recently announced the restart of their “strategic dialogue” after a long pause. Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is traveling to Washington for talks this week with President Barack Obama.
But in a summer dominated by foreign policy debates over the coup in Egypt and chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the United States hasn’t promoted its revamped aid relationship with Pakistan. Neither has Pakistan.
The silence reflects the lingering mutual suspicions between the two.
The Pakistanis do not like being seen as dependent on their heavy-handed partners. The Americans are uncomfortable highlighting the billions provided to a government that is plagued by corruption and perceived as often duplicitous in fighting terrorism.
Congress has cleared most of the money, and it should start moving early next year, officials and congressional aides said.
Over three weeks in July and August, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development informed Congress that it planned to restart a wide range of assistance, mostly dedicated to helping Pakistan fight terrorism. The United States sees that effort as essential as it withdraws troops from neighboring Afghanistan next year and tries to leave a stable government behind.
Other funds focus on a range of items, including help for Pakistani law enforcement and a multibillion-dollar dam in disputed territory.
U.S.-Pakistani relations have weathered many crises in recent years. There was a months-long legal battle over a CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis, in addition to the fallout from bin Laden’s killing in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad in May 2011. The Pakistani government was outraged that it received no advance warning of the Navy SEAL raid on bin Laden’s compound.
Adding to the mistrust, the United States mistakenly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. Islamabad responded by shutting land supply routes for troops in Afghanistan until it received a U.S. apology seven months later.
The State Department told Congress that the U.S. hadn’t conducted any significant military financing for Pakistan since the “challenging and rapidly changing period of U.S.-Pakistan relations” in 2011 and 2012. The department stressed the importance now of enhancing Pakistan’s anti-terrorism capabilities through better communications, night vision capabilities, maritime security and precision striking with F16 fighter jets.
The department told Congress on July 25 that it would spend $295 million to help Pakistan’s military. Twelve days later it announced $386 million more. A pair of notifications arriving on Aug. 13 and worth $705 million centered on helping Pakistani troops and air forces operating in the militant hotbeds of western Pakistan, and other counterinsurgency efforts.
The administration had until the end of September to provide Congress with “reprogramming” plans at the risk of forfeiting some of the money, which spans federal budgets from 2009-2013.