Islamabad – Pakistan's army lashed out Thursday at its critics at home as well as in the United States in an angry statement that underscored just how deep a crisis the country's armed forces are suffering.
The statement rejected all American financial aid for the military, saying the money should go instead to the government to be spent on “the common man.” It warned that it intended to “put an end” to domestic criticism of its actions.
It also tried to distance the military from the United States, saying that it had stopped U.S. training of the country's border guards and ordered the U.S. to “drastically” reduce the number of its troops in Pakistan.
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Analysts here said the unusually detailed statement — at 1,032 words, it even provided an accounting of how U.S. aid had been spent — appeared to be an effort to garner flagging public support. Much of the statement was highlighted with bold lettering to emphasize its points.
Pakistan's military has been hit by a trio of calamities in the past month that have led to unprecedented censure at home, especially in the press but also from members of parliament: the May 2 U.S. special forces raid that found and killed Osama bin Laden in a town in northern Pakistan, a humiliating terrorist assault on a naval base in Karachi in mid-May and the kidnapping and beating death of a prominent journalist, which been widely and openly blamed on the military's spy agency.
For the military, which has dominated Pakistan since the nation's creation in 1947, the public criticism is the harshest since 1971, when half the country broke away to form Bangladesh, and it was clear from the tone of the statement that the criticism has stung.
“This is an effort to drive a wedge between the army, different organs of the state and more seriously, the people of Pakistan,” according to the statement, which was issued after a meeting of top military figures with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army's chief of staff. “Any effort to create divisions between important institutions of the country is not in our national interest. The participants agreed that all of us should take cognizance of this unfortunate trend and put an end to it.”
Western diplomats in Islamabad say Kayani is angry and depressed. The unilateral U.S. operation to eliminate bin Laden exposed the inadequacies of Pakistani air defenses and intelligence capabilities. The 16-hour assault on the naval base in Karachi by fewer than a dozen terrorists made the armed forces look amateurish. The military's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency denies killing journalist Saleem Shahzad, though few in Pakistan appear willing to believe it.
“In their world, everything they do, they do in the national interest. Any criticism of them, they would conflate as criticism of project Pakistan,” said Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Pakistan's Dawn newspaper. “When under attack, by verbal criticism or whatever, the default reaction is to lash out and push back.”
The statement made clear that the military thought it had been wronged, both by criticism at home and by the way the United States had treated it.
“Paying tributes to the resilience and sacrifices of valiant people of Pakistan, the participants assured the nation that the army will do its utmost and continue to sacrifice for the security and well-being of the people,” the statement said.
Noting that the United States had kept secret from Islamabad its plans to assault bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, just a few hundred yards from Pakistan's most prestigious military academy, the military said future sharing of intelligence would take place “strictly on the basis of reciprocity and complete transparency.”
“It has been clearly put across to U.S. intelligence officials that no intelligence agency can be allowed to carry out independent operation on our soil,” the statement said.
It also said the military wouldn't be pressured into attacking terrorist strongholds in North Waziristan, something U.S. officials have long sought. The army “was following a well thought out campaign plan and is under no pressure to carry out operations at a particular time,” the statement said. “Future operations … will be with political consensus.”
The army also sought to cool criticism of its receipt of billions from the United States. It said the oft-quoted figure that the military had received $13 billion to $15 billion over the last 10 years was “misplaced.” It said it had received only $8.6 billion of the money and that the remainder — “approximately U.S. $6 billion” — had gone into Pakistan's general fund, “which ultimately means the people of Pakistan.”
It pointedly noted that “the figures quoted here have been reconciled with the Ministry of Finance.”
Those numbers are lower that the $20 billion the U.S. Congressional Research Service says Pakistan has received in U.S. aid since 2001. A large chunk of that was reimbursements for the cost of Pakistan's war-on-terrorism operations, under a plan known as Coalition Support Funds.
The military's statement said that “economic rather than military aid was more essential for Pakistan.”
“In line with the position taken in Pak-U.S. strategic dialogue in March 2010, it is being recommended to the government that the U.S. funds meant for military assistance to the army be diverted towards economic aid to Pakistan,” the statement said.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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