- Associated Press - Monday, July 11, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — The decision to suspend more than one-third of American military aid to Pakistan could end up hurting Washington more than Islamabad as the United States seeks to navigate an end to the Afghan war and defeat al Qaeda, former Pakistani officials and analysts warned Monday.

Holding back the $800 million in aid is unlikely to pressure Pakistan to increase cooperation with the U.S. and could strengthen those in the government who argue that Washington is a fickle ally who can’t be trusted, they said.

“If you still need the relationship, which clearly the United States does, then it really doesn’t make sense to take action at this time because it leaves the United States with less, not more, influence with the Pakistani military,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States. “Cooperation cannot be coerced by punitive actions.”

Despite billions of dollars in American aid since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the relationship long has been tense because of Pakistan‘s reluctance to target Taliban militants on its territory who stage cross-border attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The relationship took a nose dive on May 2 when U.S. commandos staged a covert raid to kill al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town not far from Islamabad. The raid humiliated the Pakistani military, which ordered U.S. trainers out of the country and reduced bilateral cooperation.

The lack of trainers means that planned U.S. equipment cannot be put into service, which reduces some of the needed aid. Also, about $300 million from the trimmed aid was intended to reimburse Pakistan for the cost of deploying troops along the Afghan border.

But U.S. officials claim that Pakistan has not lived up to pledges to uproot and disrupt Taliban militants and suspected al Qaeda factions in the border region.

President Obama’s chief of staff, William Daley, said Sunday that the U.S. was suspending $800 million in aid to the Pakistani military until the two countries can patch up their relationship.

But Tariq Fatemi, another former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., said he thought the American strategy to pressure Pakistan was destined for failure.

“I think it is unwise to expect the Pakistanis to buckle under what is a publicly delivered snub,” Mr. Fatemi said. “It will strengthen those elements in the armed forces that have always had grave misgivings of the relationship with the United States.”

It also stoked anger among ordinary Pakistanis.

“Our country threw the whole country into the inferno of the war on terror and made poverty our destiny, but it could not appease the Americans,” said Mohammad Nauman, a 41-year-old information technology specialist in the southern port of Karachi.

Many Pakistanis have not forgiven the U.S. for slapping sanctions on the country in 1990 because of its work to develop a nuclear weapon. The decision came only a year after Pakistan and the U.S. were successful in a decade-long quest to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

The sanctions left many Pakistanis with a sense that the U.S. was only interested in a “transactional” relationship that it could abandon once its interests were served.

Mr. Fatemi said the U.S. decision appeared to undercut claims by Obama administration officials that the U.S. was interested in a long-term relationship that encompassed much more than counterterrorism cooperation.

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