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Thread: Pakistanis Skeptical About A New US Embassy

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    Pakistanis Skeptical About A New US Embassy

    Origenally posted on by Omer jamil.

    Pakistanis Skeptical About A New US Embassy
    By Benjamin Joffe-Walt
    August 13, 2009

    WASHINGTON, DC—The Pakistani government is suspicious of a nearly one billion dollar U.S. plan to expand the American embassy in Islamabad, a senior Pakistani official told The Media Line.

    Following reports earlier this week that the scheduled $945.2 million expansion of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad was to include the deployment of up to 1,000 U.S. Marines to the Pakistani capital, a highly-placed official in the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said the government is increasingly skeptical of the U.S. plan and intends to raise the issue with Richard Holbrooke, U.S. President Barack Obama’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    “Of course we would not be open to that number of Marines and the government is trying to find out what’s going on,” the Pakistani official, who asked not to be identified, told The Media Line. “The excuse that the U.S. is giving is that this expansion has been necessitated by the proposed assistance package.“

    “It’s micromanagement of Pakistan’s affairs and the issue will certainly be discussed with Holbrooke,” the official said. “There should be accountability as far as the expansion is concerned and they will have to take Pakistan into their confidence regarding their expansion plans.“

    Abdul Basit, the official spokesperson for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, was reported last week as stating that the U.S. expansion plans included the deployment of hundreds of U.S. Marines and armored personnel carriers, presumably to protect the massive compound upon its completion. The U.S. embassy denied the reports on Wednesday while Mr Basit claimed he had been misquoted.

    “One newspaper misquoted me out of context,” Basit told The Media Line. “I did not say anything to this effect and there is no controversy.“

    “The U.S. has decided to expand their mission here and we hope to receive a request from them,” he said. “They have to observe local municipal laws and all new personnel will need to be approved with visas.”

    True or not, the statements have led to wide speculation in Pakistan as to the nature of the $945.2 million expansion plans.

    “Obviously there is a cover-up,” Ahmed Quraishi, Director of the strategic analysis think tank Project Pakistan 21, told The Media Line. “You do not acquire acres and acres of urban land, spend $1 billion and start building hangers just to renovate an old building or expand office space. There is obviously something else going on.“

    “What we have on our hands is the construction of a U.S. base with a heavy CIA and Pentagon presence under the guise of a U.S. embassy,” warned Quraishi, comparing the proposed renovation to the extensive U.S. embassy compounds in Kabul and Baghdad. “The current government is in power thanks to Washington so we don’t expect our government to oppose a U.S. plan.“

    “Obviously the U.S. embassy is very concerned about all these reports,” he added. “We suspect our government has given the approval to expand the embassy and to invite a large number of Marines, but now they are embarrassed by the growing negative reaction and trying to hide it.”

    The U.S. maintains the embassy expansion has been made necessary by growing American assistance to Pakistan. U.S. officials claim to have received approval for the renovation of the embassy but reject reports that any more than a couple dozen U.S. Marines will be deployed to the Pakistani capital.

    A recently updated U.S. Congressional Research Service tabulation cited U.S. aid to Pakistan at $15.4 billion between 2002 and 2009, with an additional $3.6 billion requested for 2010. The figures, which include military training, equipment and civilian aid, have been widely disputed in Pakistan.

    “These are just speculations,” the senior foreign ministry official told The Media Line. “It is basically the Coalition Support Fund’s reimbursement to Pakistan.”

    “We have actually been given $3.5 billion over the last five years in actual civilian assistance, about $700 million a year,” the official said. “As for the Coalition Support Fund, we have actually received about $6 billion out of the $9.5 billion in claims we have made.”

    Many Pakistanis resent American aid claims, arguing the country has lost much more than it has gained through its support for the American military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

    “Our government is so weak and so afraid of standing up to the U.S. that they don’t even want to rebut this with their version of the figures,” Quraishi said. “Reimbursement is not aid, and more than half of this supposed aid was reimbursement for expenses that Pakistan incurred hosting American soldiers going to Afghanistan.”

    “According to the Finance Ministry, we lost tens of billions of dollars since 2001 in lost opportunities and lost investment because we joined America’s ‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan,” he added. “So even if we accept the U.S. version of the aid they have given, it’s peanuts compared to what we lost for supporting America’s occupation of Afghanistan.”

    Skepticism and resentment towards the growing U.S. presence in Pakistan is nothing new. A Gallup poll released Sunday found that 59 percent of Pakistanis view the U.S. as a greater threat to Pakistan than India or the Taliban. The sentiment, which crossed the lines of gender, age, language and political affiliation, reflects deep suspicions of the U.S. amongst Pakistani citizens, many of whom view the United States’ role in Afghanistan as the root of the unrest in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

    The poll, conducted late July with more than 2,500 Pakistanis in both rural and urban areas, found that only 41 percent of the country approved of the Pakistani government’s military operations against the Taliban and only nine percent supported U.S. strikes against the Taliban in Pakistan. 11 percent of Pakistanis viewed the Taliban as the greatest threat facing the country, while 18% named longtime rival India.

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