Pakistan and the US: Implications of Growing Rift
Alok Bansal E-Mail- firstname.lastname@example.org
The recent decision by the US Administration to withhold $ 800 million military aid to Pakistan marks the lowest point in US-Pak relations since 9/11. The decision taken with a new Defence Secretary at the helm of US military indicates its resolve to avoid giving further unilateral concessions to Pakistan. The Defence Secretary, who was earlier the head of CIA understands the thinking of Pakistan’s military hierarchy and has accordingly been able to call the Pakistan military’s bluff. Till now the Pakistani military especially the Army was quite upbeat that the US could not stay in Afghanistan, without its cooperation. As a result, despite Osama’s discovery in its neighbourhood in Abbottabad, it refused to initiate military action in North Waziristan, as repeatedly requested by the US. Besides, all Pakistani citizens, who were suspected to have assisted the CIA in Abbottabad Operation, were arrested.
Through out Pakistan’s existence as an independent nation, it has sought an artificial parity with India and this necessitated acquisition of sophisticated weapons far beyond its economic means. This was overcome by hitching Pakistan to American band wagon during the Cold War. This enabled Pakistani military to get the advanced weaponry from the US as military aid, far beyond its needs. Even after the Cold War, Pakistan retained its importance by creating Taliban and turning Afghanistan into a citadel for exporting radical Islam. The same mindset allowed it to shelter Taliban leadership in FATA after it had been uprooted from Afghanistan. Since then it has been warding off US pressure to act against these elements, by taking some tentative steps against them on and off. They have handed over some lower functionaries of Taliban to the US, whenever the pressure increased. It however, realizes that its significance in the US eyes would diminish, once the radical Islamists are eliminated. Hence it has tried to shelter those, whose names appear in the ‘most wanted’ list of the US. This probably explains the refusal of Pakistani Army to launch an operation in North Waziristan, despite repeated prodding by the US.
The Pakistani military was quite confident that the US would withdraw from Afghanistan soon, after appointing Pakistan as its local satrap to manage affairs in Afghanistan. However, once President Obama unveiled his pullout plan from Afghanistan, it poured cold water on Pakistan’s aspirations. The plan clearly showed that the complete withdrawal by the US from Afghanistan is not likely to take place in the near future. Moreover, the US resolve to strengthen the Afghan National Army (ANA) has caused further consternation in Rawalpindi. Pakistan has so far ensured that the ANA remains a glorified police force without any armour, aircraft or worthwhile artillery, but things are beginning to change. Pakistan Army has been venting its frustration by firing across the Durand Line.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, this time the US has not yet yielded to Pakistani pressure tactics and the Defence Secretary has categorically stated that Pakistan will not get a blank cheque until it takes action against targets assigned. Secretary Clinton also reiterated that “Government of Pakistan must take certain steps, and we have outlined those steps on more than one occasion, to ensure that we can deliver all the military assistance that the United States has discussed with Pakistan.” She termed the recent action as a temporary pause in military assistance and asserted that civilian assistance will continue unabated. This has led to allegations against the PPP government that it was trying to act against the military in alliance with the US. At this point of time when there is a great deal of public resentment against the military and ISI for its inaction at Abbottabad and a commission is already enquiring into the incident. The attack on PNS Mehran, discovery of military officials linked to Al Qaeda and other radical organizations and killing of journalist Salim Shehzad have further tarnished the Army’s image, which finds itself on a weak wicket and is trying to drum up all the support that it can get from friendly politicians and media.
The aid withheld amounts to almost one-third of $ 2.7 billion annual military aid to Pakistan and was primarily intended for counter terrorism and counter intelligence cooperation. With the ordered expulsion of over 100 US military advisors in end May, all training being imparted towards this end had already come to a halt. The material components of the aid that has been suspended are believed to include explosive ordnance disposal support and apparatus, small arms, ammunition, helicopter spare parts, radios and equipment to counter explosive devices. It also includes around $300 million, which was to be reimbursed to Pakistan as the cost of deploying its soldiers along the Afghan border. The US has linked the resumption of aid to granting of visas to US advisors and resumption of training, as the aid included money for training as well as equipment that ordinarily would be provided with a trainer or adviser. Pakistani Army has refused to accept the conditional aid saying that it had 140,000 soldiers in the North West more than the 90,000 American troops in Afghanistan. It has claimed that the cutback will not affect its ongoing campaign against militants and has pointed out that it has conducted successful military operations in the past without external assistance. It has also asserted that China will help fill gaps arising from reduced military aid from the US. Although Pakistani civilian leadership has tried to play down the differences, Pakistani Ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani has stressed that the American propensity to use aid as a weapon of influence was counterproductive as it insults the Pakistani citizens.
The current rift is not the result of an overnight development, but a culmination of series of developments that began in January, when Raymond Davis, an employee of the US Consulate in Lahore was arrested for shooting down two Pakistani nationals. His subsequent release under US pressure further inflamed the Pakistani public sentiment. General Kayani’s statement opposing continued US drone attacks inside Pakistan showed a clear disconnect between the two militaries. This resulted in a number of minor irritants like refusal of visas to US personnel believed to be working for CIA, scaling down of CIA presence and eventual expulsion of CIA station chief. However, the assassination of Osama Bin Laden deep inside Pakistan without any notice or permission, not only highlighted the US mistrust of the Pakistani armed forces, but also its disdain. Subsequent US revelations about ISI’s involvement in 2008 Mumbai attack and elimination of investigative journalist Salim Shehzad, have taken the relations to their nadir. The Americans appear to have realised that Pakistan is unlikely to stop playing the double game and will continue to patronise Afghan Taliban and certain other radical terrorist groups. They are also fairly certain that Al-Qaeda’s remaining leadership is hiding in Pakistan and its territory is still being used by the Afghan Taliban and allied Haqqani network. On the other hand most of the Pakistani soldiers believe that they have been forced to fight the America’s war in FATA.
It is generally believed that the absence of any major terrorist attack in India since 2008, has primarily been due to US pressure on ISI. The blasts in Mumbai on 13 July, could be a ploy by the ISI to pressurize the US to yield. The involvement of Lashkar-e Toiba or any other organization aligned with Lashkar in the blasts in Mumbai is therefore a distinct possibility. India must demonstrate to the US, the futility of reliance on Pakistan for operations in Afghanistan and it can best be done by training the ANA and equipping it with low end armoured vehicles and aircraft. The possibility of seeking access to Afghanistan through a sovereign Balochistan must also be suggested to the US.
(The views expressed in the article are that of the author and do not represent the views of the editorial committee or the centre for land warfare studies).
Pakistan and the US: Implications of Growing Rift
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