Annals of Diplomacy- The Double Game
The unintended consequences of American funding in Pakistan.by Lawrence Wright May 16, 2011 The New Yorker
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Pakistan;Diplomacy;Foreign Policy;Foreign Aid;Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.);Osama bin Laden;Terrorism, TerroristsIt’s the end of the Second World War, and the United States is deciding what to do about two immense, poor, densely populated countries in Asia. America chooses one of the countries, becoming its benefactor. Over the decades, it pours billions of dollars into that country’s economy, training and equipping its military and its intelligence services. The stated goal is to create a reliable ally with strong institutions and a modern, vigorous democracy. The other country, meanwhile, is spurned because it forges alliances with America’s enemies.
The country not chosen was India, which “tilted” toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Pakistan became America’s protégé, firmly supporting its fight to contain Communism. The benefits that Pakistan accrued from this relationship were quickly apparent: in the nineteen-sixties, its economy was an exemplar. India, by contrast, was a byword for basket case. Fifty years then went by. What was the result of this social experiment?
India has become the state that we tried to create in Pakistan. It is a rising economic star, militarily powerful and democratic, and it shares American interests. Pakistan, however, is one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and a covert sponsor of terrorism. Politically and economically, it verges on being a failed state. And, despite Pakistani avowals to the contrary, America’s worst enemy, Osama bin Laden, had been hiding there for years—in strikingly comfortable circumstances—before U.S. commandos finally tracked him down and killed him, on May 2nd.
American aid is hardly the only factor that led these two countries to such disparate outcomes. But, at this pivotal moment, it would be a mistake not to examine the degree to which U.S. dollars have undermined our strategic relationship with Pakistan—and created monstrous contradictions within Pakistan itself.
American money began flowing into Pakistan in 1954, when a mutual defense agreement was signed. During the next decade, nearly two and a half billion dollars in economic assistance, and seven hundred million in military aid, went to Pakistan. After the 1965 Pakistan-India war began, the U.S. essentially withdrew aid to both countries. Gradually, U.S. economic aid was restored, but the Pakistani military was kept on probation.
Those civilian-aid programs were largely successful. Christine Fair, a specialist on South Asia at the Center for Peace and Security Studies, at Georgetown University, notes that the original model for economic assistance was “demand driven”—local groups or governments proposed projects and applied for grants. Aid usually came in the form of matching funds, so that grantees had a stake in the projects. Moreover, American specialists presided over the disbursement of these funds and served as managers. “That was effective,” Fair says. “But we haven’t done it for decades.”
Then, in 1979, U.S. intelligence discovered that Pakistan was secretly building a uranium-enrichment facility in response to India’s nuclear-weapons program. That April, the military dictator of Pakistan, General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, hanged the civilian President he had expelled from office, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; he then cancelled elections. U.S. aid came to a halt. At the same time, Zia began giving support to an Islamist organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, the forerunner of many more radical groups to come. In November, a mob of Jamaat followers, inflamed by a rumor that the U.S. and Israel were behind an attack on the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, burned the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to the ground, killing two Americans and two Pakistani employees. The American romance with Pakistan was over, but the marriage was just about to begin.
The very next month, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. President Jimmy Carter, in a panic, offered Zia four hundred million dollars in economic and military aid. Zia rejected the offer, calling it “peanuts”—the term often arises in Pakistani critiques of American aid, but it must have rankled the peanut farmer in the White House. Zia was smart to hold out. Under Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, U.S. aid nearly quintupled: about three billion dollars in economic assistance and two billion in military aid. The Reagan Administration also provided three billion dollars to Afghan jihadis. These funds went through the sticky hands of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the spy branch of the Pakistani Army. Starting in 1987, the I.S.I. was headed by General Hamid Gul, a cunning and bitterly anti-American figure. The I.S.I. became so glutted with power and money that it formed a “state within a state,” in the words of Benazir Bhutto, who became Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 1988. She eventually fired Gul, fearing that he was engineering a coup.
Milton Bearden, a former C.I.A. station chief in Pakistan, once described Gul to me as having a “rococo” personality. In 2004, I visited Gul—a short man with a rigid, military posture and raptor-like features—at his villa in Rawalpindi. He proudly asked his servant to bring me an orange from his private grove. I asked Gul why, during the Afghan jihad, he had favored Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the seven warlords who had been designated to receive American assistance in the fight against the Soviets. Hekmatyar was the most brutal member of the group, but, crucially, he was a Pashtun, like Gul. As I ate the orange, Gul offered a more principled rationale for his choice: “I went to each of the seven, you see, and I asked them, ‘I know you are the strongest, but who is No. 2?’ ” He formed a tight, smug smile. “They all said Hekmatyar.”
Later, Gul helped oversee the creation of the Taliban, reportedly using mainly Saudi money. The I.S.I. openly supported the Taliban until September 11, 2001. Since then, the Pakistani government has disavowed the group, but it is widely believed that it still provides Taliban leaders with safe harbor in Quetta, where they stage jihad against Western forces in Afghanistan.
In 1990, President George H. W. Bush cut off military aid to Pakistan. Ostensibly, this was in response to Pakistan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, but it’s also true that, after the Soviets were pushed out of Afghanistan, in the late eighties, the U.S. lost interest in Pakistan. U.S. assistance, directed almost entirely toward food and counter-narcotics efforts, fell to forty-five million dollars a year, and declined further after 1998, when Pakistan began testing nuclear weapons.
After the September 11th attacks, Pakistan abruptly became America’s key ally in the “war on terror.” Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. gave billions of dollars to Pakistan, most of it in unrestricted funds, to combat terrorism. Pervez Musharraf, who served as President between 1999 and 2008, now admits that during his tenure he diverted many of those billions to arm Pakistan against its hobgoblin enemy, India. “Whoever wishes to be angry, let them be angry—why should we bother?” Musharraf said in an interview on the Pakistani television channel Express News. “We have to maintain our security.” Since Musharraf left office, there has been little indication that U.S. aid—$4.5 billion in 2010, one of the largest amounts ever given to a foreign country—is being more properly spent.
The main beneficiary of U.S. money, the Pakistani military, has never won a war, but, according to “Military Inc.,” by Ayesha Siddiqa, it has done very well in its investments: hotels, real estate, shopping malls. Such entrepreneurship, however corrupt, fills a gap, as Pakistan’s economy is now almost entirely dependent on American taxpayers. In a country of a hundred and eighty million people, fewer than two million citizens pay taxes, and Pakistan’s leaders are doing little to change the situation. In Karachi, the financial capital, the government recently inaugurated a program to appoint eunuchs as tax collectors. Eunuchs are considered relentless scolds in South Asia, and the threat of being hounded by one is somehow supposed to take the place of audits.
Eliminating, or sharply reducing, military aid to Pakistan would have consequences, but they may not be the ones we fear. Diminishing the power of the military class would open up more room for civilian rule. Many Pakistanis are in favor of less U.S. aid; their slogan is “trade not aid.” In particular, Pakistani businessmen have long sought U.S. tax breaks for their textiles, which American manufacturers have resisted. Such a move would empower the civilian middle class. India would no doubt welcome a reduction in military aid to Pakistan, and the U.S. could use this as leverage to pressure India to allow the Kashmiris to vote on their future, which would very likely be a vote for independence. These two actions might do far more to enhance Pakistan’s stability, and to insure its friendship, than the billions of dollars that America now pays like a ransom.
Within the I.S.I., there is a secret organization known as the S Wing, which is largely composed of supposedly retired military and I.S.I. officers. “It doesn’t exist on paper,” a source close to the I.S.I. told me. The S Wing handles relations with radical elements. “If something happens, then they have deniability,” the source explained. If any group within the Pakistani military helped hide bin Laden, it was likely S Wing.
Eight days before Osama bin Laden was killed, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the head of the Pakistani Army, went to the Kakul military academy in Abbottabad, less than a mile from the villa where bin Laden was living. “General Kayani told the cadets, ‘We have broken the backbone of the militants,’ ” Pir Zubair Shah, the reporter, told me. “But the backbone was right there.” Perhaps with a touch of theatre, Hamid Gul, the former I.S.I. chief, publicly expressed wonder that bin Laden was living in a city with three army regiments, less than a mile from an élite military academy, in a house that appeared to have been built expressly to protect him. Aside from the military, Gul told the Associated Press, “there is the local police, the Intelligence Bureau, Military Intelligence, the I.S.I. They all had a presence there.” ♦
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