Washington: The United States will supplement its multi-billion dollar aid package to Pakistan with a series of powerful new weapons, including smart bombs, to help Islamabad crackdown on its growing militant groups.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defence Robert Gates have in recent weeks pledged further security assistance to Islamabad, in addition to the USD 7.5 billion in aid over five years that the US Congress approved to fund infrastructure and education projects.
Apart from 18 F-16 fighter jets and a dozen surveillance drones built in the United States, Pakistan will assume control of laser-driven “smart bomb” technology that will maximise the government’s ability to strike and demolish remote targets.
Pakistan has also sought unmanned attack drones, but the US has unequivocally declined those requests, a military official confirms.
The move has raised concerns in India, where government officials fear that Pakistan will utilize the weapons not to fight terrorist groups, but in a future confrontation with its decades-long rival to the east. New Delhi`s scepticisms are well-grounded as Pakistan has in previous years used US aid to militarize on its Indian border.
The Obama administration has a complex relationship with Islamabad, having already carried out dozens of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas that have incurred hundreds of civilian casualties, local sources say. The latest weapons transfer is seen as a quid pro quo for the US to continue waging those attacks, which have been met with considerable disdain by the Pakistani people.
Although US officials claim they have killed top al Qaeda operatives, the rise of fatalities at the hands of the United States has further complicated the situation by fuelling antagonism toward the West – and by extension, mounting public distrust at home for the pro-American president, Asif Ali Zardari.
While the drone attacks have strong support among US military leaders, some members of Congress fear that they are doing more harm than good by bolstering public sympathy for anti-American extremist factions.
The United States is seeking to strengthen Pakistan’s government to prevent a power vacuum that may allow extremist groups to wield more power. The delicate balance is even more important given Islamabad’s stockpile of nuclear weapons – an intoxicating lure for militants that forces the US to exercise great caution to ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hands.