On a high profile visit to Pakistan today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel informed the country that the $1.6 billion in annual aid they receive is conditional on them ending the public protests against US drone strikes, protests which led to the US to halt shipments from Afghanistan through Pakistan.
The aid resumed at the end of October, and almost immediately Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government, which had been condemning drone strikes regularly, started clamming up, so it’s clear this was meant to be part of the deal.
After today’s meeting, Sharif made it clear he believes the strikes are “counter-productive,” but Pentagon officials also say they received assurances from Sharif that something would be done about the protesters.
Over the weekend it was reported that Sharif has ordered police to draw up plans to crush the protests as well, suggesting Hagel’s demand to end the public show of dissent was not a surprise.
The question is whether Sharif can successfully end the protests, particularly after campaign on a promise to end the strikes. Not doing so could cost him so major US cash, but the attempt is bound to cost him a lot of credibility.
It is not lost on the Pakistanis, either, that the drone protests are a direct result of the US twice reneging on promises to end the strikes, once assassinating a Taliban leader less than 24 hours before the peace talks, then attacking a religious school on the planned first day of protests, adding a lot of fuel to the fire.