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Obama's Silent War Shocks Pakistan

The latest Taliban bombing has uncovered America's low-profile funding of the Pakistan military

Delcan Walsh

A map of Pakistan locating Lower Dir. A bomb blast in Pakistan claimed by the Taliban killed eight people Wednesday, including three US soldiers and children. (AFP/Graphic)

To many Pakistanis the most shocking aspect of the latest Taliban
bombing was not the death toll, or the injuries inflicted on survivors,
but the question that it raised: what was a team of American soldiers
doing in a tense corner of North West Frontier province?

In a
way, the attack tugged the veil from a multi-faceted military
assistance program that, while not secret, is rarely publicized – by
either side.

President Obama's public aid to ­Pakistan
is transparent: $1.5bn a year for the next five years, mainly to boost
the civilian government. But behind the scenes the US is engaged in
other ways. Over the past decade it has given over $12bn in cash
directly to the ­military to subsidize the costs of fighting the
Taliban and al-Qaida. The program to train the Frontier Corps, which
the killed ­soldiers were involved with, is ­estimated to be worth
$400m more over several years.

Generously provisioned
counter-narcotics programs operate along the Afghan border, funding
everything from wells to schools. In Islamabad military contractors –
usually retired army personnel – are paid to advise the army,
discreetly working out of suburban houses. All this is hugely
sensitive. Public opinion in Pakistan is overwhelmingly hostile to
American "interference".

Last year a media furor erupted over
the role of the contractor Blackwater, which vocal right-wing
commentators believed was part of a covert plot to steal the country's
nuclear weapons.

The Taliban played on that fear yesterday with a
spokesman describing the bomb as "revenge for the blasts carried out by
Blackwater in Pakistan".

The critics are backed by public opinion. A survey last October found that 80% of Pakistanis rejected American assistance in fighting the Taliban.

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