Revival of Pakistan-US military training represents boon to relations

By Zia Ur Rehman

Female Pakistani troops march during the Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad last March 23. The United States in January announced the resumption of Pakistan's participation in the International Military Education and Training Programme (IMET). [Farooq Naeem/AFP]

Female Pakistani troops march during the Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad last March 23. The United States in January announced the resumption of Pakistan's participation in the International Military Education and Training Programme (IMET). [Farooq Naeem/AFP]

ISLAMABAD -- The recent resumption of Pakistan's participation in a US military training and education programme highlights the warming relations and co-operation between the two countries, particularly between the nations' militaries, analysts say.

The United States approved Pakistan's return to the International Military Education and Training Programme (IMET) more than a year after suspending Pakistan's participation, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells said in a tweet on January 4.

Washington made the gesture "in order to strengthen military-to-military co-operation on shared priorities" and "advance US national security", she said in the tweet.

The overall security assistance suspension for Pakistan remains in effect, said Wells.

Resumption of Pakistan's participation in IMET came after a meeting in Washington between US President Donald Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan last July.

Both leaders vowed to foster the relationship between their countries.

In the meeting, Trump hailed Pakistan for its help in advancing peace talks in Afghanistan.

The two countries have had good relations since Pakistan achieved independence in 1947, said Khan.

"We've [both countries] been fighting wars together," he said, citing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, where "Pakistan was a frontline state, allied to the US," and also the war on terror after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

After Khan's visit to Washington, the United States approved $125 million (Rs. 1.8 billion) of technical support for Pakistan's fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

Improving military capacities

Allowing Pakistan to rejoin the American military training programme will strengthen good working relations between the military leaders of both countries, say analysts and lawmakers.

IMET is a US security assistance programme to instil capabilities and technical expertise and is aimed at enhancing regional stability through mutually beneficial military-to-military relations.

Under IMET, more than 60 Pakistani mid-career officers go to US institutions for annual training, said a senior Pakistani Foreign Office official.

"Its unfreezing is very important for both Pakistan and the United States and will cement good working relations" between their military leaders, he said.

"IMET is a significant avenue of military-to-military communications in the future that will be helpful for both countries in their combat against terrorism," said the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The programme dates back to the 1960s but was suspended from 1991 to 2002 for Pakistan because of nuclear proliferation-related sanctions in the United States, he said.

Pakistan was the largest recipient of IMET aid between 2003 and 2017, Reuters reported in August 2018, citing the Security Assistance Monitor, a non-profit organisation that tracks and analyses US security sector assistance programmes worldwide.

A positive impact

The move will leave a positive impact on regional security and co-operation, said Nusrat Wahid, who represents Sindh in the Pakistani parliament.

"It was an outcome of successful diplomatic efforts of Prime Minister Khan, whose government is the proponent of a good relationship with America that benefits both countries in economic development, counter-terrorism efforts and other affairs," Nusrat said.

Khan, before becoming prime minister, had vowed to foster a "balanced relationship" with the United States -- a stance that observers hailed at the time. He stressed the need to revitalise diplomatic ties and to transform the relationship for the benefit of both countries.

Unfreezing the military training will help the United States seek Pakistan's assistance in ending the insurgency in Afghanistan, said Karachi-based security analyst Raees Ahmed.

Washington often has credited Islamabad with helping to facilitate negotiations in advancing peace talks in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan showed its commitment to ending Afghanistan's 18-year insurgency by taking several initiatives, including inviting Afghan leaders to Pakistan," Ahmed said.

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Enhancing US security and the fight against terrorism is a euphemism for American crusade against Islam. IMET is an instrument for indoctrination of foreign trainees and for enlisting them to advance American interests.