The Corps Commanders Conference at Rawalpindi is always a special occasion for Pakistan-watchers, no matter whether Pakistan is governed by a civilian government or not. The crisply worded ISPR [Inter Services Public Relations] handout is dissected for clues on the army’s thought processes. Thus, the press release issued after the Conference Thursday chaired by army chief Parvez Kayani is notable for its unusual length, style and content.
Quite obviously, the army is going over the head of the government to take the nation into confidence against the backdrop of sharp public criticism in the post-Abbottabad period about its ineptness in safeguarding national security and its role in the US-led war. The Pak army has felt the need to clarify the military-to-military relationship with the United States. The topic is highly sensitive, but Kayani decided it is necessary to explain to the public. The military is making it appear it is accountable to the nation in regard of future dealings with the US. At the same time, it also warns US that mil-to-mil relationship can no longer run on previous tracks. Thursday’s conference took following decisions:
a) Pakistani military will henceforth forgo direct US military assistance.
b) The military is requesting the government to divert toward economic projects whatever funds being provided by US as military aid.
c) Actual military assistance received from US during the 10-year period since the Afghan war began is only 1.4 billion dollars. As figure of 13-15 billion dollars bandied about by the Americans, Pakistan actually received 8.6 billion dollars out of which 6 billion dollars were used by civilian government for “budgetary support”.
d) The mil-to-mil relationship with US shall henceforth come within the larger ambit of US-Pakistan governmental relationship.
e) The mil-to-mil relationship has been “assessed afresh” in the context of the Abbottabad operation.
f) The strength of US troops stationed in Pakistan has been “drastically” cut down.
g) Pakistani army does not need training assistance from US.
h) Any cooperation at the level of intelligence agencies shall be strictly on the basis of “reciprocity and complete transparency”.
i) US agencies have been told they cannot carry out “independent” intelligence operations on the Pakistani soil.
j) Pakistani military will not succumb to US pressure to undertake operations in North Waziristan. Any such operations will be undertaken in future only with “political consensus”.
k) US drone attacks are “not acceptable under any circumstances. There is no room for ambiguity in this regard”.
l) “Pakistan’s internal situation is the most important factor and it cannot be relegated in priority.”
The punch comes just days ahead of Obama’s expected announcement of troop draw down in Afghanistan. The efforts by US officials in the recent weeks - John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Mike Mullen - couldn’t restore the fractured mil-to-mil relationship.
The policy on US military aid is debatable, as ultimately Pakistani military meets expenditure out of government budget. Clearly, military distrusts US intentions. It goes back to the Raymond Davis affair, ace American operative held in Pakistani custody in February-March. Through the 2 months of grilling by the ISI in Lahore, Davis spilled the beans about the extent of US intelligence penetration. The ISPR statement concludes with a stunning statement highlighting the gravity of internal security.
The military wants US to stop covert operations. The ISPR kept silent on the Afghan war, although Hamid Karzai was expected in Islamabad Friday. Clearly, intelligence cooperation with US is nowhere near being restored; drone attack is becoming a point of contention; no North Waziristan operation need be expected.