ISLAMABAD: In what could be a recipe for a new controversy, the United States will spend nearly one billion dollars from its $2.4 billion war supplement aid for Pakistan on the construction and fortification of its new embassy in Islamabad and additional staffing of the mission, in what is seen here as a departure from the usual practice of using State Department finances for such projects.
Under a programme to strengthen its presence in Pakistan, the US will bring here about 1,000 personnel, including a large number of Marines.
It has already undertaken a project to rebuild and refurbish the embassy building and construct accommodation for the new staff and a massive complex for the Marines to be stationed in the capital.
The US plan to reinforce its presence has already created ripples here and, according to a senior official, it would mean stationing of ‘more American military and intelligence personnel in diplomatic guise.
And a retired diplomat says the upcoming American hub in Islamabad will be used to influence development in the region by remote control.
US Charge d’Affaires Gerald Feierstein, in a letter to Dawn, described the plan as a positive development symbolising US commitment to stand by its friends in Pakistan. He said the new embassy building would be a landmark in the diplomatic enclave.
The US media, meanwhile, has described the upcoming structure as a ‘super embassy’ rivalling only the American mission in Baghdad.
The project, US official estimates show, will cost about $1 billion. And the Obama administration has worked out an easy way out, footing the bills from Pakistan’s $2.4 billion share in the Pentagon War Supplemental Package for the fiscal year 2009.
A breakdown of the war supplemental aid package shows that $707 million has been earmarked for economic assistance, $700 million for counter-insurgency capability fund, $896 million for the new secured US embassy and consulates in Pakistan and $46 million for enhanced diplomatic operations covering logistics for civilian staff surge and security.
From the package, Pakistan will practically receive $707 million as economic assistance and that will include $225 million announced by Washington as assistance for displaced persons.
‘Closer scrutiny of the much trumpeted aid package shows that the government after subtracting the assistance for IDPs will be getting a mere $482 million and some improved counter-insurgency capacity,’ a senior Pakistani official dealing with aid said.
American officials defend the staff surge by saying it has been necessitated by the tripling of aid for Pakistan by the Obama administration. ‘We need the capacity to disburse money and exercise oversight.’
When asked about the clubbing of the cost for the new embassy and associated logistics with the war supplemental aid package, they said it was because of legislative procedures on the Capitol Hill. ‘That’s how legislative system works in Washington.’
The number of Marines Washington intends to station in Islamabad for security of its embassy is being widely discussed here by diplomatic circles, media and informed sections of the public and there are speculations about the number of Marines who will land in Islamabad.
A report earlier published in Dawn said the number could be around 350. Although Mr Feierstein in his clarification had dismissed the figure as simply untrue, State Department documents indicate an allocation of $112.5 million for the Marines complex to be built inside the embassy compound.
The document does not suggest how many Marines would the new complex accommodate, but another allocation of $111 million in the same document for construction of a new annexe says it would house 330 personnel.