(Reuters) : Pakistan’s army chief last week called for billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to be diverted into helping the economy to improve the lives of ordinary people.
The call by General Ashfaq Kayani at a meeting with his top commanders appeared to be aimed at bolstering the army’s popularity, dented after the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a raid by U.S. forces on May 2.
“It is being recommended to the government that the U.S. funds meant for military assistance to army be diverted towards economic aid to Pakistan which can be used for reducing the burden on the common man,” the army said in a statement.
Pakistan is crucial to U.S. efforts to stabilise Afghanistan but its role as a reliable partner in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban came under increasing scrutiny after bin Laden was found living in the heart of the country.
Some U.S. lawmakers have suggested that U.S. aid be stopped.
The military has also faced rare criticism at home after its failure to find bin Laden was followed by a string of militant attacks, including one on a naval air base in Karachi.
Relations between Pakistan and the United States hit a low after the unilateral raid by U.S. forces who found and killed bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad.
Kayani said Pakistan had drastically cut down on the number of U.S. troops stationed in the country and ended their role in training Pakistani soldiers involved in fighting militants.
The statement also set clear limits on intelligence-sharing with the United States.
“It has been decided to share intelligence strictly on the basis of reciprocity and complete transparency,” it said.
“It has been clearly put across to U.S. intelligence officials that no intelligence agency can be allowed to carry out independent operation on our soil.”
The military also repeated its opposition to missile strike by U.S. drones saying “these are not acceptable under any circumstances.”
The statement reiterated the army’s commitment to supporting democracy in Pakistan, but condemned any attempt to malign the military or create divisions within the country.
“The participants agreed that all of us should take cognizance of this unfortunate trend and put an end to it.”
The Pakistan army has ruled the country for much of its history, though a civilian government took office in 2008.