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U.S. Withholds $800 Million In Aid To Pakistan

GUY RAZ, host: The White House says the U.S. is withholding hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to Pakistan.

NPR's Jackie Northam reports on what's behind the move and how it's increasing tension between the two countries.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have long been complicated and challenging. The two countries are supposed to be allies, but their relationship is built on layers of mistrust, anger, frustration and public recriminations.

White House Chief of Staff William Daley said on ABC's "This Week" program that the U.S. has decided to withhold some $800 million in military aid to the Pakistanis.


WILLIAM DALEY: Right now, they have taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid, which we were giving to their military. And we're trying to work through that.

NORTHAM: Daley said he understood that the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, not far from the capital Islamabad, had caused, quote, "a lot of pain" amongst Pakistan's leadership.

The early May raid on bin Laden's compound was carried out by U.S. Navy SEALs without giving Pakistan advanced knowledge. Shortly after, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in his former role as CIA chief, suggested Pakistan's military was either complicit or incompetent for not knowing bin Laden was living in Pakistan.

Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, says the raid and the criticism has had a big impact in Pakistan.

SHUJA NAWAZ: All of this has really kind of spooked the Pakistanis, and particularly the military that came under a lot of criticism at home. So they're reacting largely to shore up their domestic base again.

NORTHAM: Not long after the bin Laden raid, Pakistan took its own unilateral actions, says Brian Katulis with the Center for American Progress.

BRIAN KATULIS: Pakistan ordered U.S. special forces, trainers to leave a few weeks ago. And a couple of weeks ago, the defense minister said that the drone strikes that the U.S. was conducting from Shamsi airbase in Pakistani territory had stopped and that they were requesting the U.S. to pull out infrastructure there.

NORTHAM: In a written statement, a Pentagon spokesperson indicated that Pakistan's decision to eject the American military trainers is what prompted the U.S. decision to withhold military aid. And if the American trainers can't get in, they also can't send in military equipment needed by the Pakistanis.

Nawaz of the Atlantic Council says this is a dangerous circle, and that neither side is going to come out ahead because the U.S. and Pakistan need each other. Nawaz says most of the supplies to American troops in Afghanistan run through Pakistan.

NAWAZ: The U.S. certainly needs Pakistan for its air and land line of communication, particularly in this final two, three years of the Afghan campaign. And Pakistan certainly needs the U.S.' financial assistance to continue its own fighting against terrorism on the western border.

NORTHAM: Despite the codependency, the two sides appear to be digging in their heels. Katulis of the Center for American Progress says the Obama administration may be signaling that it wants Pakistan to finally make a clean break with Islamist militants.

KATULIS: I think all of these policy moves and the public statements are aimed at certain faction within Pakistan's security establishment, a faction that thinks that it somehow is still smart policy to offer support and safe haven to some militant groups, some militant groups that still have links to al-Qaida.

NORTHAM: Katulis says neither side can afford to let the situation deteriorate. Still, he thinks relations between Pakistan and the U.S. are going to get worse before they get better.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.