Ending the US-Pakistan alliance

An article from Foreign Affairs argues that America should cuts its ties to Pakistan, “Ever since 9/11, the United States has provided Pakistan with a steady supply of security and nonsecurity assistance. U.S. officials have justified these generous transfers—worth more than $30 billion since 2002—on the grounds that they secure Pakistan’s ongoing cooperation in Afghanistan, bolster Pakistan’s ability to fight terrorism, and give the U.S. government influence over the country’s ever-expanding nuclear weapons program. Failing to deliver this support, the argument runs, could dramatically weaken the will and capacity of Pakistan’s security forces and possibly even lead to the collapse of the Pakistani state. In that event, Pakistan’s nuclear know-how, material, or weapons could well fall into the hands of nefarious actors”.

The writer makes the valid assertion that “Yet that logic is fundamentally flawed. Many of the weapons Washington gives Islamabad are ill suited to fighting terrorism, and continued transfers will do nothing to convince the Pakistani government to end its long-standing support for terrorist groups. In fact, U.S. assistance gives Pakistan an incentive to foster a sense of insecurity concerning its nuclear arsenal and expanding ranks of jihadists. Since the current approach has little chance of aligning Pakistan’s interests with those of the United States, the time has come for Washington to change course. If Washington cannot end Pakistan’s noxious behaviours, it should at least stop sponsoring them”.

The author notes that there has been a long history of this, “Pakistan’s reliance on militant proxies is as old as its very existence as an independent state. As early as 1947, when Pakistan was emerging from the collapse of the British Raj, the new government was backing anti-Indian tribal militias in the disputed territory of Kashmir. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, by 1950, Islamabad was promoting a Pakistan-based Islamist party known as Jamaat-e-Islami. Members of that party would later become prominent mujahideen who, with the backing of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), would go on to fight both Afghanistan’s pro-Soviet leaders and Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s. After 1989, Pakistan redeployed these battle-hardened fighters to Indian Kashmir, where they displaced indigenous secular nationalist insurgents in their battle against Indian rule in the province”.

The piece goes onto argue “Pakistan has come to rely on nonstate actors in Afghanistan and India because they are relatively inexpensive and disproportionately effective. They shield the state from the risks of deploying regular forces while affording its officials a degree of plausible deniability. Pakistan’s nuclear capacity, meanwhile, has allowed Islamabad to use these actors with the knowledge that its neighbours, particularly India, will hesitate to retaliate. That Pakistan can request foreign assistance to contain the menace of its wayward proxies compounds their appeal. Jihadist organizations are integral to Pakistan’s regional strategy. For the country’s security establishment, the notion of cutting them off is anathema”.

The author correctly makes the point that “Even as they support terrorist groups that threaten U.S. interests, Pakistani officials are wont to claim that Washington has been a perfidious ally. They note, for example, that the United States failed to come to Pakistan’s aid during its 1965 and 1971 wars with India, despite a bilateral defense pact signed in 1954 and shared commitments under the Central Treaty Organization and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. They claim that the United States drew Pakistan into an anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s and then abandoned Islamabad, leaving it to deal with the aftermath of the conflict once U.S. objectives had been achieved. And they claim that Washington unjustly withheld an order of F-16 fighter jets that Pakistan had agreed to purchase, because of sanctions imposed in 1990. Yet in all these instances, Pakistan’s historical retelling is either a distortion of reality or an outright fiction. For starters, the United States was not obligated to help Pakistan in its 1965 war with India, both because Pakistan had initiated that conflict and because Washington’s various agreements with Islamabad pertained only to communist threats. In fact, even though sanctions imposed on both India and Pakistan after the 1965 war legally prohibited the United States from helping Pakistan when conflict with India reignited over East Pakistan in 1971, the Nixon administration nonetheless came to Islamabad’s assistance. Indeed, President Richard Nixon bent U.S. law to authorize military aid even as American officials understood that Pakistan was committing genocide against ethnic Bengalis in East Pakistan”.

The article mentions that “Over the next decade, Washington would repeatedly compromise its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation to the benefit of Pakistan’s military rulers. When Afghanistan became mired in Soviet-backed chaos in December 1979, for example, the administration of U.S. President Jimmy Carter decided to drop the nuclear-related sanctions it had imposed on Pakistan earlier that year and instead sponsor Pakistan’s efforts to oust Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Yet Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq rebuffed Carter’s offer of some $325 million in aid as “peanuts,” betting that a Republican president would offer Pakistan a better deal after the 1980 election. He was right. After assuming office in January 1981, Ronald Reagan secured a waiver of the 1979 sanctions, and by 1982, the United States had initiated a six-year aid package worth some $3.2 billion”.

Pointed the piece argues “Past attempts to induce Pakistan to change its behaviour have largely failed, and there is little reason to believe that a change in course is imminent. Indeed, what little convergence of interests existed between Washington and Islamabad during the Cold War has long since disappeared. After six decades of policy predicated on Pakistani blackmail, it should be possible to achieve U.S. interests with a different approach. A strategy of containment is the United States’ best option. Above all, U.S. relations with Pakistan should be premised on the understanding that Pakistan is a hostile state, rather than an ally or a partner. To be sure, accepting that reality does not mean abandoning Pakistan altogether. The United States should maintain its diplomatic relations with Pakistan, and it should address a long-standing Pakistani complaint by providing Pakistani products greater access to American markets, signaling that Washington takes Islamabad’s legitimate concerns seriously enough to risk the ire of domestic business interests. It should also continue training Pakistanis in critical capacities such as peacekeeping, disaster relief, and civil-military relations through the U.S. government’s International Military Education and Training program. And it should continue to provide Pakistan with modest assistance in such areas as basic health care, gender equality, and primary and occupational education”.

Crucially though, “it must delink that help from the failed counterterrorism programs with which many such human development programs are currently bundled. And above all, Washington must end its support for the country’s turgid military establishment, which sustains a perverse strategic culture that has ill served Pakistani and U.S. interests for decades. To that end, the United States should stop supplying Pakistan with strategic weapons systems, and it should prevent Pakistan from replacing and repairing those pieces of equipment that it has already received. The provision of U.S. weapons cannot reshape Pakistan’s will to maintain its militant proxies, but those weapons do equip Pakistan to challenge India. Indeed, the vast majority of the weapons systems provided to Pakistan since 2001 are better suited for a conventional conflict with its neighbour than for internal security operations. These transfers undermine U.S. efforts to cultivate a relationship with India, an important democratic partner on a range of crucial issues, from securing regional sea-lanes to managing China’s rise”.

The piece concludes “Repairing Pakistan’s civil-military relations, on the other hand, will require reforming the country’s tax system. Today, less than one percent of Pakistanis pay income taxes, and the country’s tax-to-GDP ratio is among the world’s lowest. Only when Pakistan’s tax base is broadened will citizens begin to hold their government accountable for its overinvestment in defense and underinvestment in human development. Washington should therefore encourage the International Monetary Fund to condition new agreements with Pakistan on the completion of promised economic reforms, including an overhaul of its tax system. In the past, Pakistan’s confidence that it was too dangerous to fail has allowed it to renege on its promises to international lenders. Allowing Pakistan to face the consequences of its failures may force it to fix its economic policy in the future. Should Pakistan continue to back nonstate actors, the United States should aggressively use every tool available to sanction Pakistanis—ordinary citizens, military and civilian officials, and militant leaders—who engage in or sponsor terrorism. Many of Pakistan’s elite travel to the United States for medical treatment or to visit family members; Washington should deny visas to those Pakistanis linked to terrorist activity by credible intelligence”.

The writer continues, arguing that “the United States should remove itself from Pakistan’s nuclear coercion loop. It is questionable whether the billions of dollars in aid sent to Islamabad over the past six decades has bought the United States actionable information on the Pakistani nuclear program. What is evident, however, is that Pakistan uses its nuclear arsenal to extract rents from the United States and to deter India from retaliating against attacks by its militant proxies. With this in mind, the United States should make two points clear to Pakistan. First, Washington should tell Islamabad that it will be held accountable if any of its nuclear material is found in the hands of another state or nonstate actors. Punitive measures could well include air strikes on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities. And second, although in the past the United States has pushed India to de-escalate the situation in the aftermath of Pakistani-sponsored terrorist attacks, Washington should tell Pakistan that it will not intervene in any future crises. How New Delhi decides to respond to Pakistani provocations should be its decision, not Washington’s”.

In response to the critics of this proposed policy the writer notes that “Critics of radically reorienting U.S. policy toward Pakistan argue that cutting the country off would be ineffective at best and dangerously destabilising at worst. They claim, for example, that U.S. sanctions in the 1990s failed to prevent Pakistan from acquiring a nuclear weapon and testing it in 1998 and that a punitive approach would be similarly fruitless today. But the chronology of this argument is confused: although Pakistan tested its first nuclear weapon in 1998, the country had assembled the materials for a bomb by the late 1980s, well before U.S. sanctions came into force”.

The writer finishes “Advocates of continued aid to Islamabad often argue that Washington needs Pakistan’s cooperation to bring supplies to Afghanistan via Pakistani routes. But this is not the case. When Pakistan restricted U.S. access to supply routes in 2011, the United States managed to transport goods to Afghanistan by air and through Central Asia. That policy may have been temporarily expensive, but as the United States diminishes its presence in Afghanistan, it should likewise be able to do so without relying on Pakistan”.

Crucially the report ends “Perhaps the greatest concern raised by advocates of the status quo is that discontinuing aid would lead to the collapse of the Pakistani state and the arrival of Islamist terrorists at the nuclear gates. Yet Pakistan is far more resilient than most analysts appreciate, and state failure is not in the offing. When Pakistan became independent, in 1947, it faced a daunting set of challenges. It lacked a functioning national democratic party. Its ministries and armed forces were short-staffed and dysfunctional. Large portions of its population were resentful of Islamabad’s rule. And it was ill equipped to police the dangerous border with Afghanistan that it had inherited from the Raj. At the time, British and some Indian leaders expected the country to collapse and merge with its neighbour”.

She ends “Pakistan will not fail. Under U.S. pressure, it is more likely to undertake crucial political and fiscal reforms. If it does, the result will be better for Pakistanis, better for U.S. interests in South Asia, and better for anyone interested in a Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbours”.


One Response to “Ending the US-Pakistan alliance”

  1. Order and Tradition Says:

    […] interesting piece notes the worthy tactic of Sen Bob Corker on demanding a new approach to Pakistan, “Long-simmering tensions between Congress and Pakistan over Islamabad’s alleged support […]

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