Pak finds Uncle Sam's purse has creepy strings

Resentment building up over growing presence of US diplomatic, intelligence personnel in Pakistan

A $1.5 billion aid package passed by US Congress last week asks Pakistan to cease supporting terrorist groups on its soil and to ensure that the military does not interfere with civilian politics. President Asif Ali Zardari, whose association with the US has added to his unpopularity, agreed to the stipulations in the aid package. But many, especially in the powerful army, object to the conditions as interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs, and they are interpreting the larger American footprint in more sinister ways.

American officials say the embassy and its security presence must expand in order to monitor how the new money is spent. They also have real security concerns, which were underscored when a suicide bomber, dressed in the uniform of Pakistani security forces, killed at least five people at a UN office in the heart of Islamabad.

The US embassy has publicised plans for a vast new building in Islamabad for about 1,000 people, with security for some diplomats provided through a Washington-based private contracting company, DynCorp. The embassy setup, with American demands for importing more armoured vehicles, is a significant expansion over the last 15 years. It comes at a time of intense discussion in Washington over whether to widen American operations and aid to Pakistan — a base for al-Qaeda — as an alternative to deeper American involvement in Afghanistan with the addition of more forces.

The fierce opposition is revealing deep strains in the alliance. Even at its current levels, the American presence was fuelling a sense of occupation among Pakistani politicians and security officials, said several Pakistani officials, who did not want to be named. The US was now seen as behaving in Pakistan much as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In particular, the Pakistani military and the intelligence agencies are concerned that DynCorp is being used by Washington to develop a parallel network of security and intelligence personnel within Pakistan.

The tensions are erupting as the US is pressing Pakistan to take on not only those Taliban groups that have threatened their government, but also the Taliban leadership that uses Pakistan as a base to organise and conduct their insurgency against American forces in Afghanistan.

In a public statement, the American ambassador, Anne W Patterson, suggested last week that Pakistan should eliminate the Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, a onetime ally of the Pakistanis who Washington says is now based in Baluchistan, the province on the Afghanistan border. If Pakistan did not get rid of Mullah Omar, the US would, she suggested.

The Pakistani army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in an unusually stern reaction, said missile attacks by American drones in Baluchistan, as implied by the Americans, “would not be allowed.” The Pakistanis also complain that they are not being sufficiently consulted over the pending White House decision on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.

The head of Pakistan’s chief spy agency, the ISI Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, met with senior officials at the CIA last week in Washington, where he argued that more troops was not the answer in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army, riding high after its campaign to wrench back control of the Swat Valley from the Taliban, remains nervous about Washington’s intentions in the region, and the push against the new aid is reflective of that anxiety, Pakistani officials said.

Though the Zardari government is trumpeting the new aid assistance as a triumph, officials say the language in the legislation ignores long-held prerogatives about Pakistani sovereignty, making the $1.5 billion a tough sell. “Now everyone has a handle they can use to rip into the Zardari government,” said a senior Pakistani official involved in the American-Pakistani dialogue.

The expanding American security presence has become another club. DynCorp has attracted particular scrutiny after the Pakistani news media reported that Blackwater, the contractor that has generated controversy because of its aggressive tactics in Iraq, was also present in Pakistan.

Recently, there have been a series of complaints by Islamabad residents who said they had been ‘roughed up’ by hefty plainclothes American men bearing weapons, presumably from DynCorp, one of the senior Pakistani officials involved with the Americans said. Pakistan’s foreign office had sent two formal diplomatic complaints in the past few weeks to the US embassy about such incidents, the official said.

The embassy had received complaints, and confirmed two incidents, but denied receiving any formal protests from the foreign office. It also declined to comment about the presence of Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, in Pakistan.

Officials at the CIA have said Blackwater employees worked at a remote base in Shamsi, in Baluchistan, where they loaded missiles and bombs onto drones used to strike Taliban and Qaeda militants. The operation of the drones at Shamsi had been shifted by the Americans to Afghanistan this year, a senior Pakistani military official said.

There was considerable unease about the American diplomatic presence in Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier province, one of the senior government officials said. Politicians were asking why the US needed a consulate in Peshawar, which borders the tribal areas where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are based, when that office did not issue visas, he said.

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