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US Aid to Pakistan: Changing Rules of Engagement and Regional Implications

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  • February 11, 2011
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Dr G Balachandran
    Discussants: Capt (IN) Alok Bansal and Dr Harinder Sekhon

    Dr Priyanka Singh’s present study focuses primarily on the prevailing dynamics and complexities of US aid to Pakistan, from an Indian perspective. The key issue that she tried to address in her paper was the lack of a synchronised and substantiated Indian perspective on US aid to Pakistan and its implications for the regional security.

    The presenter argued that since the inception of US-Pakistan relations, aid, both military and non-military, has been the key instrument of US policy towards Pakistan. However, the history of US aid to Pakistan shows that the flow and quantum of the aid has been intermittent. Nonetheless, aid to Pakistan has been subject to geo-strategic challenges which threatened the US interests in the region time and again. After 9/11, the US has flooded huge aid into Pakistan to meet its objectives, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

    She noted that in the post 9/11 era, the main objectives of US aid to Pakistan are to strengthen Pakistan’s capacity for counterterrorism operations, help it to prevent the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction, support it in the development of a moderate, democratic and civilian government in Pakistan. However, the author felt that because of the absence of clearly defined objectives on how to utilize the US aid has led to mismanagement and augmented complacency in Pakistan’s government. Pakistan relentlessly forestalled decisive action against the Taliban and al Qaeda inside its territory despite receiving billions in aid since 2001. Consequently, the March 2009 Interagency White Paper outlining US future strategy on Afghanistan-Pakistan enunciated a new course for US aid in the region. It stated that assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan should be aligned with United States core goals and objectives and that assistance would be limited without the achievement of results. It also stressed on capacity building of the governments in these countries as a measure to arrive at preferred goals. In addition, the US also made fundamental changes in its subsequent aid policies towards Pakistan such as through the PEACE Act which granted $ 7.5 billion to Pakistan by placing more drivers for better usage of its aid.

    The author said that the ongoing discourse in the US on Pakistan’s accountability regarding usage of US aid somehow converges with India’s long held view that aid is being pumped into terror infested Pakistan at the cost of regional security environment. The US aid policy towards Pakistan is also known to lack a coherent strategy being too security centric, with very little proportions of it reaching the masses out there. In this scenario, US faces the dilemma of having to increase the aid despite knowing that it may not achieve its desired ends.

    Therefore, there are fundamental problems in administering US assistance to Pakistan. According to Dr. Singh, the important problems among them are the constraints within USAID in staff and resources which are vital to timely and just distribution of the funds and constraints in free and safe movement across Pakistan; more aid than what can be effectively absorbed by local institutions; the case of aid failing to reach the deserving sections of Pakistani society leads to anti-Americanism in Pakistan; lack of outreach and failure of US aid to generate goodwill; resistance to various conditions in US aid policy towards Pakistan; lack of visibility and the ratio of success; lack of transparency in US Pakistan dealings and dearth of support systems to conduct monitoring and oversight of aid.

    Implications for India: The author pointed out two important dimensions: first, the US military aid comprising conventional weapons which are of little use in counterinsurgency operations and are borne with the possibility of being used against India; and, second, the non-military assistance and its role in Pakistan’s nation building in terms of a stable and peaceful neighbourhood has a direct bearing on the region and India in particular. According to her, another argument on India’s security concerns stems from “asymmetric warfare” noted to be a principal tool of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

    Assessing the US aid policy in Pakistan, she said that huge aid and redemption from several debts has helped Pakistan save itself from an economic breakdown and the resistance that Pakistan security forces offer to the Taliban in their territory which avoided a security breakdown. However, the author was of the view that any US military aid to Pakistan would be self defeating as this would quietly be absorbed by the Pakistan army. Therefore, she stressed that there is a need to reconfigure and reorient military assistance to Pakistan driving it more towards counterterrorism and counter insurgency. Finally, she suggested that US policies should direct the process of managing aid judiciously only on long term basis and it needs to make a modest and a coherent start to initiate measures of checks and balances.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions:

    • Relationship between countries based on shared interests and values last long whereas US-Pakistan relations are based on interest which is transient.
    • The US thinks that aid to Pakistan provides leverage. However, aid to Pakistan has not brought stability in Pakistan and it is now a failed state.
    • US drone attacks in Pakistan, critical role of Pakistan media, and various conditions that are attached to aid has led to anti-Americanism. However, Pakistan still holds centrality in United States global war on terrorism.
    • US aid policy should aim at stopping the radical idea in Pakistan and should encourage moderate forces for forming a democratic and stable government. This could help Pakistan to fight against Taliban and al Qaeda.
    • Pakistan’s huge procurement of conventional military aid from US like F16s is surely going to be used against India and these are not going to be used against al Qaeda and Taliban.
    • The US aid policy has not succeeded in strengthening liberal forces in Pakistan and instead the radical forces are increasing. Moreover, the crumbling state structures in Pakistan would have serious regional implications.
    • The author needs to provide a historical background of US aid policy towards Pakistan to clearly reflect issues relating to it. During the post-World War II period, the role of US industrial-military complex should be discussed in the context of US aid policy.
    • Pakistan became one of the earliest allies of US by joining CEATO and CENTO in early 1950s and received huge military aid from the US. The geo-strategic significance of Pakistan to US during the Cold War period also needs to be dealt with. The US threat perception from the USSR and China also need to be considered in the aid policy. In the past, however, US manipulated aid policy to achieve its self interests.
    • The author needs to discuss and highlight about the rationale behind the fundamental changes in recent US aid policy towards Pakistan and new rules of engagement. The author also needs to consult more Pakistan government sources and Pakistani writings.
    • The US aid policy was very successful immediately after the 9/11 war – especially in the war against Taliban and al Qaeda. However, issues such as changing the mindset of Pakistan extremists, bringing peace and stability, and establishing moderate and democratic government in Pakistan came later where it is not successful.
    • The role of US congressional oversight, especially the role of Department of Defence, Department of State, defence committees, foreign relations committees and various standing committees in the US aid policy need to be discussed and mentioned in the paper for providing a clear and detailed analysis of the US aid policy towards Pakistan.

    Report prepared by Dr Saroj Bishoyi, Research Assistant, IDSA