Islamabad: Pakistan`s Army chief said on Thursday that billions of dollars in US aid to fund the military`s fight against Islamist militants should be diverted to help ordinary Pakistanis, a possible attempt to boost the military`s popularity following the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani`s comments, made in a meeting with his top commanders, were also a jab at the US, which has pushed Pakistan to step up its fight against Taliban militants who stage cross-border attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan.
The US Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden on May 02 enraged Kayani and other military officials, since they were not told about it beforehand. It also triggered widespread domestic criticism of the military for failing to stop the operation and for not knowing that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, an Army town roughly 35 miles (55 kilometres) outside Islamabad.
The raid has also sparked retaliatory attacks by militants inside Pakistan, intensifying the country`s already rampant violence.
Pakistani officials said on Thursday that Taliban fighters stormed a checkpoint, killing eight Pakistani soldiers in an Afghan border region that the Army previously said it had cleared of insurgents. Two bomb attacks elsewhere in the northwest on Thursday killed six civilians.
The relationship between Pakistan and the US was strained even before the bin Laden raid, and the operation pushed it to a new low.
Kayani reiterated to his commanders that the Army has ceased its training relationship with the US in the wake of the operation and has restricted the scope of intelligence sharing.
"It has been decided to share intelligence strictly on the basis of reciprocity and complete transparency," he said an unusually long and detailed statement issued by the Army after Thursday`s meeting.
The Army chief also rejected US calls for an operation in North Waziristan, a tribal region in the northwest that serves as the main sanctuary for militants launching attacks in Afghanistan.
The US has tried to entice Pakistan to step up its cooperation by offering billions of dollars in military assistance.
Kayani said on Thursday that around USD 2.6 billion has been received by the military, and the remaining USD 6 billion was kept by the Pakistani government. He also said future US military assistance should "be diverted towards economic aid to Pakistan which can be used for reducing the burden on the common man”.
It is unclear whether the military will follow through with the initiative, especially since the country continues to face serious militant threats and has long relied on American military aid to maintain its defence posture against its regional foe, India.
The US has long demanded Pakistan launch an offensive in North Waziristan, but the military has said its forces are stretched too thin by other operations in the tribal region. Many analysts believe, however, that Pakistan is loathe to cross Taliban militants, with whom it has historical ties and could be valuable allies in Afghanistan once US forces withdraw.
Kayani did call on the people of North Waziristan "to evict all foreigners from their soil and take charge of their land and destiny once again”. Even though Pakistan has been reluctant to anger the Afghan Taliban, it has targeted foreign militant groups like al Qaeda that have declared war on the Pakistani state.
The US has responded to Pakistan`s intransigence by stepping up drone attacks in the tribal region, especially in North Waziristan. Those attacks are extremely unpopular within Pakistan and are often condemned by Pakistani officials. That public anger has intensified in the wake of the bin Laden raid, even though the Pakistani military is believed to help quietly with some of the attacks.
Kayani told his commanders that the attacks "are not acceptable under any circumstances”.