US pleased with new Pak Government, to give it "democracy dividend"

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Washington, Apr.17 : Pleased with the way democracy has taken off in Pakistan after nine years of military-backed rule, the Bush Administration has reportedly promised to curb drone-related air strikes against suspected militants in Pakistan, and is ready to give Islamabad a fresh aid package worth over seven billion dollars.

A senior American Government official was quoted by London's Guardian newspaper as saying that there is a visible shift in the levels of communication between Washington and Islamabad, with reliance on President Musharraf and the military as the sole points of contact dwindling by the day.

"Each day Musharraf's influence becomes less and less. Civilians are in control. People aren't meeting with Musharraf any more ... we are very pleased with the new civilian government," said the official on condition of anonymity.

According to the Guardian, the joint counter-terrorism strategy and aid package redefines the bilateral relationship. It quotes Bush Administration officials as saying that Pakistan is being offered a "Democracy Dividend" of up to one billion pounds, a reward for holding peaceful elections and forming a coalition government.

Of that, 200 million dollars could be approved in the next few days, the paper adds.

The aid package, being put together by the Democratic senator Joseph Biden, will mark a decisive break in US policy on Pakistan, which for much of the past nine years focused on President Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani military as Washington's primary partners in the "war on terror".

Pakistani officials say much of the new counter-terrorism aid will be spent on civilian law enforcement institutions, such as the interior ministry, the intelligence bureau and the federal investigation agency, rather than being channelled almost exclusively through the army and the military-run Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) organisation.

The new government says it has also won American support for its policy of opening a dialogue with Pashtun tribes along the Afghan border, led by an ethnic Pashtun group, the Awami National party, that is part of the government coalition.

The new understanding on air strikes by US Predator drones is seen in Islamabad as a critical benchmark for the new relationship.

Pakistani officials say they have been given assurances by Washington that there will be close consultation with the civilian government, not with Musharraf, before any future strikes.

However, the use of Predators is held as a closely guarded secret and US intelligence is reluctant to share information about targets, and there is some scepticism in Islamabad over whether the deal will stick.

The US has given Pakistan about ten billion dollars in military aid during the past seven years.

ANI

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