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Cribbing Over Conditionalities

Sushant Sareen is Consultant, Pakistan Project, at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • October 08, 2009

    With both houses of the US Congress having passed the ‘Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act,’ Pakistan will soon start receiving an annual economic assistance package of US $1.5 billion for the next five years. Normally a legislation such as this which triples the quantum of aid should be warmly welcomed by both the recipient country and the donor country. But the Kerry-Lugar bill has so far only caused immense heart-burn – in Pakistan where the conditionalities contained in the bill are seen as demeaning, or worse, an assault on the country’s sovereignty and that too for a ‘pittance’; among influential US Congressmen and Senators who continue to doubt Pakistan's commitment to fight Islamist terror groups; and, predictably enough, in India there is a sense of disquiet over the enhanced US assistance to Pakistan which many Indians feel will ultimately be used against India.

    Perhaps the Pakistanis have a point when they say that $1.5 billion per year is not going to go very far in achieving the ambitious objective of promoting “long-term development and infrastructure projects, including in healthcare, education, water management and energy programmes in all areas of Pakistan.” Given the extent of the mess in Pakistan, an economic aid package of around $5 billion might have just about helped turn things around. Of course, in the din surrounding the ‘paltry’ sum offered through the Kerry-Lugar bill, what is being ignored is that direct economic assistance is only one part of US aid to Pakistan. The US plays an important role in making available finance from multilateral institutions like IMF, World Bank and ADB, which in turn raise confidence on Pakistan in international financial markets and encourages trade and investment. What is more, the US also influences other countries to provide aid and assistance to Pakistan, for instance through the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) forum.

    While grumbles over the amount of economic assistance is understandable – Pakistanis claim that the War on Terror has cost the country anything between $35 billion to $50 billion – what is not understandable is the whining about how cheaply Pakistan has sold itself to the Americans. This is like saying that if the price was right, they would have no compunctions in swallowing the bitter pill of compromising their self-respect, independence and sovereignty by accepting the conditions enshrined in the aid package. Clearly then, it is not so much the compromise on the principle that bothers the cribbers; rather it is the ‘peanuts’ they are being paid for compromising on the principle that they find so outrageous.

    No doubt, prima facie, the conditions imposed in the Kerry-Lugar bill appear harsh and humiliating for the Pakistanis. But viewed in the proper perspective, the complaints over the terms and conditions of the Kerry-Lugar bill are somewhat misplaced, more so since the violation of these conditionalities will affect not the economic assistance programme but only the security-related assistance, the details of which have not been specified. The violations can however be waived off “if the Secretary of State determines that it is important to the national security interests of the United States to do so.” In other words, while the conditions list out US concerns and highlight the red-lines that Pakistan should not breach, it is entirely possible that despite Pakistani violations of these red lines, the security assistance will continue as long as US strategic compulsions dictate so. This is exactly what happened during the 1980s on the issue of the Pressler amendment. Of course, Pakistan will once again have been forewarned about aid being replaced by sanctions if it does not adhere to the markers set out in the Kerry-Lugar bill.

    Indeed, strict adherence to the conditionalities would be good for Pakistan, good for the US and good even for India. Take, for instance, the US insistence on an elaborate and quite intrusive system of accounting and auditing of the aid package. This is being done to ensure that there is no leakage or diversion of the aid money and that the money is used for the purpose it has been sanctioned. To the extent that this betrays a lack of confidence in the state’s delivery mechanism, it is natural for the Pakistanis to feel slighted. But the fact is that Pakistan has been notorious in misappropriating and diverting previous aid packages. While military and civilian officials and some politicians enriched themselves by siphoning off the money, the aid had little, if any, impact on the general development of the country. Instead of constructing Pakistan, US dollars ended up corrupting Pakistan. This time around the US is not ready to repeat the mistakes of the past and disburse aid merely on the basis of assurances and proposals from Pakistan.

    The strict accounting, auditing and monitoring procedures for aid does not however raise the hackles in Pakistan as much as the conditions relating to democratic governance, combating terrorism and dismantling the nuclear proliferation network. On nuclear proliferation, the US Secretary of State will have to certify that “the Government of Pakistan is continuing to cooperate with the United States in efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials, such as providing relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks.”

    In addition, every six months, “the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense,” shall submit a report that gives a detailed description of “Pakistan’s efforts to prevent proliferation of nuclear-related material and expertise [and] an assessment of whether assistance provided to Pakistan has directly or indirectly aided the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, whether by the diversion of United States assistance or the reallocation of Pakistan’s financial resources that would otherwise be spent for programs and activities unrelated to its nuclear weapons program.” Unless Pakistan wants to restart the nuclear Walmart run by A.Q. Khan with the connivance of Pakistan’s military establishment, it should not really have a problem with this condition. The stopping of proliferation to and from Pakistan is something that India too should welcome wholeheartedly.

    The second major objection being raised by Pakistanis relates to the conditionalities seeking to promote democracy in Pakistan and empower the civilian government and institutions. Every year the US Secretary of State is required to certify that “the security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.” Bi-annually, the Secretary of State will have to send to the appropriate congressional committees a report providing “an assessment of the extent to which the Government of Pakistan exercises effective civilian control of the military, including a description of the extent to which civilian executive leaders and parliament exercise oversight and approval of military budgets, the chain of command, the process of promotion for senior military leaders, civilian involvement in strategic guidance and planning, and military involvement in civil administration.”

    Only someone who seeks to perpetuate the hold of the Army on the politics of the country would object to or resent this conditionality. In any functioning democracy where civilian supremacy is firmly established, such a condition would be meaningless because not only are all top military appointments entirely the prerogative of the civilian government, all important policy decisions too are taken by the civilian authority, albeit after taking inputs from the military brass. But given the peculiarities and weaknesses of Pakistani democracy – the preponderant influence that the Army exercises in the politics of that country – such a condition affirms US commitment to empowering civilian institutions in Pakistan and supporting a stable democratic order. As far as the Americans are concerned, they are trying hard to change the widely, and perhaps correctly, held perception inside Pakistan that they are more favourably inclined to and comfortable dealing with military strongmen who serve as a single window clearance as opposed to civilian politicians who have to try and keep the public mood in mind before taking any decision. For anyone in Pakistan to construe this condition to mean that the US will henceforth interfere in decisions on military promotions is quite preposterous. But even if this were the case, surely senior appointments in the army of people who are opposed to the Islamists and who are apolitical is something that is also in Pakistan's interest.

    The third and potentially most critical conditionality is over the issue of terrorism. According to the Kerry-Lugar bill, the Secretary of State has to certify that “the Government of Pakistan during the preceding fiscal year has demonstrated a sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups ... including taking into account the extent to which the Government of Pakistan has made progress on matters such as (A) ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against the United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighbouring countries; (B) preventing al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, from operating in the territory of Pakistan, including carrying out cross-border attacks into neighbouring countries, closing terrorist camps in the Fata, dismantling terrorist bases of operations in other parts of the country, including Quetta and Muridke, and taking action when provided with intelligence about high-level terrorist targets; and (C) strengthening counterterrorism and anti-money laundering laws.”

    Every six months the Secretary of State will have to provide to appropriate congressional committees “an evaluation of efforts undertaken by the Government of Pakistan to (A) disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist and terrorist groups in the FATA and settled areas; (B) eliminate the safe havens of such forces in Pakistan; (C) close terrorist camps, including those of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed; (D) cease all support for extremist and terrorist groups; (E) prevent attacks into neighbouring countries; (F) increase oversight over curriculum in Madrassas, including closing Madrassas with direct links to the Taliban or other extremist and terrorist groups; and (G) improve counterterrorism financing and anti-money laundering laws, apply for observer status for the Financial Action Task Force, and take steps to adhere to the United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism.”

    Clearly, the benchmarks set on the issue of terrorism seek to make the Pakistani government live up to its oft stated commitment to “fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.” In other words, Pakistan will have to act not only against terrorist groups that threaten the United States and itself but also against those groups that indulge in terrorism against India. The reference to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad and the inclusion of places like the LeT headquarters, Muridke, is a clear signal to Pakistan that the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ jihadists no longer washes with the US. Although in deference to Pakistani sensitivities, the final version of the Kerry-Lugar bill has removed any specific reference to sponsorship of terrorism against India by Pakistan-based groups, this is hardly a concession to Pakistan. If anything, the US Congress has made the terrorism benchmarks so much more broad-based that very little wriggle room has been left for the Pakistanis (or for that matter even for the US) to continue playing favourites among the jihadists. This means that it is no longer enough to say that there will be no terror against India but also those jihadists who spread terror in Iran (Jundullah) or China (ETIM) will be curbed. This is exactly what is needed if Pakistan has to be transformed back into a modern and moderate state.

    Pakistanis are being rather disingenuous when they argue that terrorism related conditions amount to an acceptance of the charges that Pakistan was indeed involved in sponsoring terrorism. It is one thing to be in denial over the activities of jihadists operating as instruments of state policy and quite another trying to deceive the rest of the world of this immutable reality. Of course, the Pakistanis are justified in their apprehension that Pakistan will be held hostage to any act of terror in neighbouring countries by jihadist groups based in Pakistan acting on their own and without any state support, involvement or sponsorship. But the fact is that no one (not even India) expects Pakistan to deliver overnight on these terrorism conditionalities. What everyone expects however is a sincere and serious effort by Pakistan to dismantle the physical, political, and ideological infrastructure that provides sustenance to the jihadist groups. This includes ending the fiction of holding companies of terror groups like Jamaatud Dawa as being mere charities. There is little doubt that the terrorism conditionalities impose a very onerous responsibility on the Pakistani authorities. It is going to be a very tall order for Pakistan to clean up its act, but this is unavoidable if Pakistan does not want to acquire the status of a jihadist state.

    Rather than being apprehensive, India should in fact welcome the Kerry-Lugar bill and the conditionalities it contains. The monitoring mechanism being put in place will address many of India’s concerns about the economic aid being diverted for military purposes. The quantum of aid is such that it will at best keep Pakistan on life support and reduce it into a dependency of the US, which is not a bad thing for India. After all, India has been unable to influence developments in Pakistan or enforce compliance on Pakistan to its demands. As a result, India depends on the US and other Western countries to pressure Pakistan on issues of concern to India. The more Pakistan becomes dependant on the US, the more the possibility of India being able to use US influence on Pakistan for its own ends. The only two other countries that can exercise influence on Pakistan are China and Saudi Arabia, and neither is likely to intercede on India’s behalf with Pakistan. To the extent that US assistance and influence will lead to modern schools replacing madrasas, health facilities being created, urban decay being arrested, economic growth providing employment to young people and weaning them away from throwing themselves into the fires of jihad, a stable democratic order, reduction in the political role of the army, dismantling of the nuclear proliferation networks and winding down of the jihad infrastructure, there is little reason for India to complain.

    With the Kerry-Lugar bill being passed, the ball will now be in Pakistan’s court, which will have to decide whether to accept or reject the conditions contained in the bill. Despite all the angst over the conditionalities in the bill, chances are that Pakistan will accept the bill. The Pakistan of 2009 simply does not have the economic, military and strategic space that was available to the Pakistan of 1980 when Ziaul Haq could reject the initial US offer of economic assistance by calling it ‘peanuts’. The fact of the matter is that on its own resources Pakistan is no longer a sustainable entity. While Pakistan could still try and develop a taste for grass by rejecting US assistance, there is no way it can economically sustain the fight against the Islamist insurgency without external assistance. Insurgencies sap the energy of the state and weaken it to a point where it collapses. The only way a state can beat this outcome is through external help, which enables it to counter the economic drain that an insurgency imposes. This is something that the Pakistanis should bear in mind before they mindlessly oppose the American munificence. What is more, Pakistan needs to work out the fallout of the US calling its bluff in the event that the aid package is rejected.