By Aaron Mannes, Rennie Silva and V.S. Subrahmanian for The Huffington Post
As part of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, the United States has granted Pakistan over $2 billion in military equipment over the next five years. This aid is intended to support American policy objectives and help stabilize Pakistan, but it may be achieving the opposite.
Military aid for Pakistan has a clear, if narrow, logic: to ensure the supply lines for the 100,000 American and NATO ally troops deployed to landlocked Afghanistan. The United States has few viable alternatives to the Pakistani-controlled routes into Afghanistan. When Pakistan recently shut down the Torkham crossing into Afghanistan (after an accidental border clash with a NATO helicopter that left two Pakistani soldiers dead and four wounded), supply trucks backed-up and Pakistani Taliban set fire to over 100 vehicles. Though there was no immediate danger of shortages, the event signaled how difficult US-led operations in Afghanistan could become without support from Pakistan’s military.
Despite its indispensable role in the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s own stability is in doubt and military aid has been of limited utility. Since 9/11 the United States has delivered over $18 billion in aid to Pakistan, about two-thirds of which has been military. In that period, violence by Pakistan-based terrorists both within Pakistan and without has increased substantially. According to the National Counter Terror Center’s World Incidents Tracking System, 110 Pakistanis were killed in terror attacks in 2004. By 2007 that number had jumped to 400, and in 2008 the casualty figure more than doubled to nearly 900.
As illustrated by the recent bombing of the Criminal Investigation Building in Karachi which killed 20, American aid has not enabled Pakistan’s security forces to control the violence. Instead, Pakistan has become a base for terrorism not only targeting the Pakistani state but also India, as demonstrated by the 2008 Mumbai massacre and a deadly series of 2006 commuter train bombings in Mumbai which killed over 200 people. India’s response to these attacks has been muted, but its restraint is finite. Open hostilities with its neighbor to the east would be devastating for Pakistan, and could even trigger a nuclear exchange.
Although several thousand Pakistani soldiers have died fighting Islamist extremists, the Pakistani security establishment has been slow to adopt counter-insurgency methods of war fighting. Instead, it has preferred to continue its India-centric focus. Investigations of U.S. military aid intended to help Pakistan fight the Taliban find that it is often re-purposed to counter India. “I’ll be the first to admit, I’m India-centric” Pakistani army chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told Bob Woodward in his latest book, revealing a long-term strategy that is at odds with US interests.
Pakistan’s ongoing use of Islamist terrorists as proxies against India is especially troubling. President Zardari, who has stated “the undeclared policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound was abandoned,” claims that Pakistan has turned against Islamist militants. But Pakistan’s generals have not received the memo, as investigations into the Mumbai attack show that links between at least some elements of the ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba continue.
Pakistan has pursued some Taliban forces in its tribal areas, while leaving others alone to support future Pakistani interests in neighboring Afghanistan. Under such circumstances, America’s military aid is at best fueling Pakistan’s longstanding rivalry with India, and at worst enabling its enemies.
Pakistan’s high defense spending has robbed critical social programs of necessary resources. Pakistan continues lag behind comparable countries in general development indicators such as literacy and infant mortality, while its infrastructure is stretched to keep up with the needs of its fast-growing population. Under-funded and corrupt government institutions compound the situation. As Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders cynically seek to distract the public from these shortcomings, it is little surprise that Islamist groups often fill the vacuum by providing critical services or that the Pakistani people increasingly fall under their spell.
The long-term development shortfalls of Pakistan’s government have been exacerbated by a series of disasters including the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, the 2008 economic crisis, and last summer’s massive flooding. The latter, which caused nearly $10 billion in damage, has created millions of refugees and devastated an irrigation system that was strained to meet the demands of Pakistan’s agricultural sector before the flooding. Today, its failure threatens to cripple a vital sector of the Pakistani economy for years to come.
American development aid cannot counter decades of Pakistani neglect, but it can play a productive role in addressing critical needs. Providing Pakistan with more military capability-capability that could contribute to regional instability if it is used on American allies-is unlikely to achieve either.