Aid to Pakistan under scrutiny

The US Congress’ House Appropriations Committee has decided to withhold 75 percent of the $ 1.1 billion in US aid to Pakistan until the Obama administration reports to Congress on how it would spend the money. This is an important development given how fraught the ties between the two allies in the war on terror have been in recent months. From public criticism on drone strikes by political and military leaders alike to the Raymond Davis saga, tensions between the US and Pakistan gradually increased but the final nail in the coffin was when Osama bin Laden was found residing in Pakistan near its premier military academy in Abbottabad last month. Ever since the unilateral US raid that killed OBL, the debate on giving aid to Pakistan has taken a sharp turn. Now more and more voices are being heard talking about Pakistan’s duplicity vis-Ă -vis the war on terror and whether there is any reason to trust an unfaithful ally.

The US has given billions of dollars in military and developmental aid to Pakistan post-9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan. Most of the money has been given to the military despite statements to the contrary from our security establishment. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the US allocated $ 20.713 billion as assistance to Pakistan during the last decade but so far $ 12.522 billion has been provided in cash under the heads of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and in kind. The Pakistan Army received $ 1.455 billion for CSF and $ 1.023 billion for security assistance, so a total of $ 2.478 billion have been given to the army. There have been allegations by the US that inflated bills purportedly of expenditure on the war on terror were handed over by the Pakistan side. There is also a growing concern that a chunk of CSF money was diverted to buy weapons for conventional warfare.

On the one side there is growing criticism of Pakistan but on the other hand, the Obama administration and US officials like Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen have termed it dangerous and unrealistic to walk away from Pakistan. “We need each other, and this relationship goes beyond Afghanistan,” Mr Gates said. “It has to do with regional stability, and I think we have to be realistic about Pakistani distrust...and their deep belief that when we are done with al Qaeda that we will be gone, again.” These are valid concerns, but even after the US withdrawal is complete, Pakistan will continue to be an important strategic ally in the South Asian region. The US is obviously wary of repeating the same mistake it made post-Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. When Pakistan was left to its own devices, al Qaeda grew stronger in the region and the Taliban took over the Afghan government. The world cannot afford the repetition of such a scenario. But a prerequisite of the US’s continued support to Pakistan is that we should stop trying to fool the world. A military operation in North Waziristan to cleanse the area of the Haqqani and other jihadi networks is one of the demands by the US. Pakistan has so far stalled on this and does not look very serious in carrying out such an operation. This is obvious from the fact that the military is trying to persuade tribesmen in North Waziristan to raise lashkars (militias) to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda but has only promised “moral and material support”, not weapons. No tribesman would be willing to commit virtual suicide by agreeing to such an offer.

Pakistan must take the growing criticism seriously. Despite the global economic recession and the heavy spending on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has given billions of dollars to Pakistan. If we want US aid, we have to deliver results. Otherwise, we have to face the consequences of non-cooperation.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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