Once a month, Pakistan's Defense Ministry delivers 15 to 20 pages of spreadsheets to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. They list costs for feeding, clothing, billeting and maintaining 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistani troops in the volatile tribal area along the Afghan border, in support of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
In response, the Defense Department has disbursed about $80 million monthly, or roughly $1 billion a year for the past six years, in one of the most generous U.S. military support programs worldwide. The U.S. aim has been to ensure that Pakistan remains the leading ally in combating extremism in South Asia.
But vague accounting, disputed expenses and suspicions about overbilling have recently made these payments to Pakistan highly controversial -- even within the U.S. government.
The poor showing in Monday's parliamentary election by the party of President Pervez Musharraf, whose government has overseen local disbursement of the money, may make Congress look closer at all U.S. financial assistance to the country. Questions have already been raised about where the money went and what the Bush administration got in return, given that pro-American sentiment in Pakistan is extremely low and al-Qaeda's presence is growing steadily stronger.
In perhaps the most disputed series of payments, Pakistan received about $80 million a month in 2006 and 2007 for military operations during cease-fires with pro-Taliban tribal elders along the border, including a 10-month truce in which troops returned to their barracks.