- Associated Press
Thursday, June 9, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s army chief said Thursday that billions of dollars in U.S. 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.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s comments, made in a meeting with his top commanders, were also a jab at the United States, which has pushed Pakistan to step up its fight against Taliban militants who stage cross-border attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden on May 2 enraged Gen. Kayani and other military officials, since they were not told about it beforehand. It also sparked 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 about 35 miles outside Islamabad.

The raid also has sparked retaliatory attacks by militants inside Pakistan, intensifying the country’s already rampant violence.

Pakistani officials said 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 U.S. was strained even before the bin Laden raid, and the operation pushed it to a new low.

Gen. Kayani reiterated to his commanders that the army has ceased its training relationship with the United States 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 U.S. 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 United States has tried to entice Pakistan to step up its cooperation by offering billions of dollars in military assistance.

Gen. Kayani said Thursday that less than $1.5 billion has been received by the military, and the remaining $7 billion was kept by the Pakistani government. He also said future U.S. 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 long has relied on American military aid to maintain its defense posture against India, its regional foe.

The United States long has 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 who could be valuable allies in Afghanistan once U.S. forces withdraw.

Gen. 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 such as al Qaeda that have declared war on the Pakistani state.

The United States 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 often are 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.

Gen. Kayani told his commanders that the attacks “are not acceptable under any circumstances.”

Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, and Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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