The Pakistani military has moved quickly to refute allegations that Chinese military experts were allowed to examine and take samples from a top-secret U.S. helicopter destroyed in the early May raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
But coming amid talk that the United States is prepared to link future military assistance to Pakistan's performance in fighting extremists on its soil, the report raises the question of whether the "pay-for-performance" approach is a nonstarter.
The "Financial Times" first reported on August 14 that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) allowed Chinese specialists to take pictures of the helicopter left behind at the bin Laden compound by U.S. commandos. The British daily, quoting unnamed intelligence sources, reported that the Chinese took pictures of the stealth helicopter's tail rotor and took samples of its radar-deflecting outer skin.
"The report is totally baseless and we strongly reject it," Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said in response to the "Financial Times" report.
Asad Munir, a retired brigadier-general and former ISI station chief in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, discounts the possibility that the Chinese were given access to the U.S. helicopter.
He notes that the remains of the stealth helicopter were handed over to the United States within a few days of the May 1-2 operation to kill the Al-Qaeda leader.
"There are no Chinese defense experts who are experts in helicopter technology that are present in Pakistan," Munir says.
Linking Aid To Performance
The strains in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship have become increasingly apparent, particularly in the wake of the raid.
Islamabad accuses Washington of being a fickle ally. Pakistani security officials privately worry about American designs in the region while publicly accusing it of trampling Pakistani sovereignty through unilateral military actions.
Islamabad is denying visas to U.S. military personnel and has thrown out its military trainers. Their real objective, observers in Islamabad suggest, is to force Washington to follow its lead in Afghanistan, which Pakistan considers central to its future.
Washington, meanwhile, has in recent months frozen $800 million in military aid to Islamabad amid accusations that Pakistan has played a double game by accepting Western assistance while resisting calls to dismantle Al-Qaeda affiliated extremist networks on its soil.
Now, Washington appears prepared to up the ante. According to "The Wall Street Journal
" on August 15, the future delivery of billions of dollars in U.S. aid to the Pakistani military would be tied to the country's performance in meeting U.S. military objectives.
The performance would be evaluated to a classified "scorecard" system developed after the bin Laden raid. In addition, according to the newspaper, Islamabad has been asked to take specific steps improve the bilateral relationship.
Analyst Munir acknowledges that the relations between the two countries are "very bad" at the moment. But he predicts they are likely to improve because of convergence in interests. Washington and Islamabad are on the same page while confronting Al-Qaeda and its affiliates inside Pakistan, he says, but have very different views on Afghanistan.
"Pakistan has got its own security concerns on its western border [with Afghanistan]. Pakistan would be worried that what would happen in Afghanistan once the U.S. forces leave that area," Munir says. "They would like to see a stable Afghanistan because an unstable Afghanistan is a threat to Pakistan especially the [Federally Administered] Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They would like to have a government installed there, which is not hostile to Pakistan -- preferably, a friendly government."
Kabul and Washington accuse Islamabad of sheltering Afghan insurgent networks in the hope of securing such an outcome. Senior American officials have been urging Islamabad to cooperate in dismantling such networks. They particularly want it to go after the network loyal to key Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his sons in the western North Waziristan tribal district on Afghan border.
Munir says that Washington's reaction to an ongoing operation in the Kurram tribal district, which adjoins North Waziristan and co-hosts the Haqqanis might signal an improvement in relations between the allies.
"I am looking at the unfolding of events related to the operation being conducted by the Pakistan forces," Munir says. "They have gone to Central Kurram and let's see that at what time and when they are going to go for North Waziristan. That is the main issue."