updated 6/16/2004 2:37:09 PM ET 2004-06-16T18:37:09

Following through on a promise, President Bush on Wednesday elevated U.S. military ties with Pakistan, granting it benefits enjoyed by only a handful of countries outside the NATO alliance.

Bush designated Pakistan as a major “non-NATO ally” of the United States.

The new status, which administration aides said recognizes Pakistan’s help in the war on terrorism, makes the nuclear-armed central Asian country eligible for priority delivery of defense materials.

The designation comes amid strengthening U.S.-Pakistani relations and was made as Bush addressed U.S. forces here — and in Iraq and Afghanistan via a satellite hookup.

The benefits of this status include eligibility to have U.S.-owned stockpiles of defense articles in Pakistan outside U.S. military installations. It also makes Pakistan eligible to use U.S.-provided foreign military financing to commercially lease some defense articles.

When Bush’s intentions were announced in March by Secretary of State Colin Powell during a visit to Islamabad, it drew immediate protests from India, Pakistan’s neighbor and rival. India does not enjoy such status.

White House: No impact on Indian relations
White House spokesman Sean McCormack said the granting of the benefits to Pakistan had nothing to do with U.S. relations with India.

“We have separate relations with each country. We don’t link actions of one country with those of another,” he said.

The U.S. military is counting on Pakistan to hunt down al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives along the Afghan border.

Pakistan claimed successes earlier this week on two fronts in its war on terrorism, ending an assault against al-Qaida hideouts near the Afghan border and announcing the arrest of the alleged mastermind of attacks on Shiites.

The arrested man, Daud Badini, leads an al-Qaida-linked militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and police say he is a brother-in-law of Ramzi Yousef, who is serving a life term in the United States for the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.

Badini was among 11 terrorist suspects — also including a nephew of former al-Qaida No. 3, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — captured last weekend in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

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