Bickering on the Kerry-Lugar Bill : In early October 2009, the Obama administration moved to continue significant assistance to Pakistan but at the same time put it on a more transparent footing. The administration pushed the U.S. Congress for approval of the Kerry-Lugar bill, allocating $7.5 billion in assistance for Pakistan over the next five years. Essentially a nonmilitary aid package granted to Pakistan in view of its precarious economic condition owing to its preoccupations as a front-line allied state, this legislation came with stringent conditions on how to distribute and invest the money in the form of military and economic checks that have prompted considerable debate in Pakistan.
“¦most U.S. assistance over the past nine years has paid for night-vision goggles, F-16 fighter jets, unmanned surveillance planes and other tools that help the army battle the Taliban, but has done little for the ordinary Pakistanis well-being.
Backers of the restraining clauses inserted into the Kerry-Lugar bill point out that the funds are intended to help erase the widespread perception that the United States cares only about supporting Pakistan’s military. Indeed, reports indicate that most U.S. assistance over the past nine years has paid for night-vision goggles, F-16 fighter jets, unmanned surveillance planes and other tools that help the army battle the Taliban, but has done little for the ordinary Pakistanis’ well-being.
The Kerry-Lugar legislation has divided the Pakistani leadership, with powerful groups in Islamabad trying to modify those clauses relating to the prevention of establishment interference in politics. The bill, for instance, calls for a free judiciary, opposes intervention of the army in politics and demands monitoring of foreign funds. But according to Javed Ashraf Qazi, Pakistan’s former education minister and one-time ISI chief, the corruption of the Pakistani elite is not the only reason why there is little to show for aid monies. Qazi says that when he was appointed education minister in 2004, after retiring from the military, he expected that U.S. assistance would help him raise standards. There was much to do: Pakistan’s public schools are in deplorable condition, with more than half of them lacking electricity, and teachers earn as little as $50 a month.
Qazi told Griff Witte in the 24 August Washington Post that he had soon discovered that the United States did not even coordinate its programs with the education ministry. Most of the money seemed to go to U.S. consultants, who would carry out a study for something or the other that Pakistan did not really need—at exorbitant hourly rates. One program was geared toward setting up democratic schools in Pakistan. “I was very curious to know what the hell is a ‘democratic school,’” Qazi says. Another program involved spending millions to send Pakistani teachers to Washington for months of training.
Pakistans government is rated among the most corrupt in the world, and the United States has a lengthy process for certifying the accountability of its partners. As a result, nearly a year after the bills passage, very little of the Kerry-Lugar money has hit the ground.
Qazi wonders why the United States had not just paid for training in Pakistan, which could have had many times the impact. Invited to Washington himself, Qazi said he finally lost his patience at a meeting in a State Department office once used by General George C. Marshall, architect of Europe’s reconstruction. “I said, ‘You do the opposite of what Marshall did. You don’t ask us what we want to do. You tell us what you want to do,’” he says.
The complaint is a familiar one in Pakistan. A recently announced plan to put solar panels on the roofs of the elite and private Beaconhouse school system throughout Pakistan has been widely derided as out of touch when many public schools lack even roofs. Pakistani analysts say a system that relies largely on American contractors to devise the plans and get the work done has yielded few results.
On the American end, the Kerry-Lugar civilian aid package is providing the first big test. Unlike in the past, this law requires the money to be routed directly through Pakistani agencies and institutions—instead of the usual routing through U.S. and allied consultants and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs)—and officials say the results will be far more visible. But already, there have been delays that could keep the money from making an impact anytime soon.
“We’re having trouble moving this money,” said Robert J. Wilson, the USAID mission director in Pakistan. “It’s not easy to change the approach.” Wilson says that transitioning away from the old system and toward the Pakistanis themselves poses its own set of challenges. Among other things, Pakistan’s government is rated among the most corrupt in the world, and the United States has a lengthy process for certifying the accountability of its partners. As a result, nearly a year after the bill’s passage, very little of the Kerry-Lugar money has hit the ground. When it does, Pakistani development officials worry that it will be spent without regard for the results or for the limitations in Pakistan’s capacity to absorb the funds.
The U.S. market remains closed to Pakistans most globally competitive industry, textiles. A “˜trade not aid model might win Pakistani hearts and minds, and cost the U.S. taxpayer less to boot.
In a June article, “A Formula to Fix America’s Pakistan Policy,” Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center in Washington, D.C., adds another perspective, arguing that much of the projected aid never reaches the shores of Pakistan. For instance, he points out that the 24-nation Friends of Democratic Pakistan promised $5.6 billion in April 2009 but has to date delivered just $725 million. Moreover, the amount of U.S. aid has been woefully inadequate to the job at hand: no more than $2 billion a year compared with the $30 billion spent annually in Afghanistan. Military equipment for the army to fight insurgents is still sparse and slow in coming. Pakistan needs helicopters, jamming devices and engineering equipment to build roads and bridges in the borderlands, as well as to provide better personal protection for its troops, Shuja Nawaz notes.
But his most telling points are in the economic and trade area. “Then there’s trade. The U.S. market remains closed to Pakistan’s most globally competitive industry, textiles. A ‘trade not aid’ model might win Pakistani hearts and minds, and cost the U.S. taxpayer less to boot. But the Obama administration has not shown any political will to extend the same kind of tariff cuts to Pakistan that it has extended to other trading partners.
“At home in Pakistan, the government of Asif Ali Zardari has had its own problems consolidating its power and getting the economy back on track. The finance ministry has been a revolving door. Pakistan needs to grow at 7-8 percent to keep ahead of population growth, not its current target of 3 percent. Public spending has huge leakages, and taxes are burdensome. But without aid to tide the government over and trade to jumpstart more sustainable growth, the country’s immediate economic prospects are dim. Without a stronger economy, Pakistan will have a difficult, if not impossible time combating the insurgency within its own borders — an insurgency that threatens to spill over into Afghanistan,” says Shuja Nawaz, adding that the U.S. can help. He has five recommendations, as follows:
“First, the Obama administration can follow through on its promises and rapidly deploy promised development and military aid. With Washington’s urging, other donors can be spurred into action, too. Second, the U.S. can lead an effort to free trade with Pakistan, especially in key sectors like textiles and apparel. Third, the U.S. could open a dialogue on a civil-nuclear deal as a symbol that it wants to bring Islamabad into the fold of responsible nations. Fourth, Washington can help launch infrastructure projects to knit the country together and provide much-needed jobs. Lastly, the two nations could establish education centers to upgrade human capital and strengthen civil society.
The current bilateral trade of $2 billion between the neighbors could rise to more than $50 billion if the borders were opened and nontariff barriers removed.
“For its part, Pakistan must take ownership of the aid program by preparing sound project plans with performance indicators built into them. The government must rid itself of corruption and cronyism and establish institutions to better manage development and to build on recent reforms. And it could offer an olive branch to its neighbor, India, and offer to liberalize trade. The current bilateral trade of $2 billion between the neighbors could rise to more than $50 billion if the borders were opened and nontariff barriers removed. This would lift incomes on both sides of the border,” Shuja Nawaz concludes.
The Atlantic Council in its own June report, “Pakistan in the Danger Zone,” points out that the United States needs to take some immediate actions to open up its markets to more Pakistani exports by reducing tariffs on Pakistan’s exports, as it has done for dozens of other countries across the globe. It must truly roll back the stringent visa restrictions and undue checking of travellers from Pakistan, a move that has further enraged public opinion, especially among the middle class. In other words, the United States must begin to treat Pakistan as an ally so Pakistan can return the favour. For the longer run, it needs to shift to visible and effective heavy infrastructure development and energy investments and begin investing in the signature projects in the education and health sectors that will not only have a longer-term impact but also be visible to the general public as the results of U.S. assistance.
The issue of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons
In the general discussion of what U.S. policy towards Pakistan should be, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal and the fear of these weapons falling into the hands of the increasingly powerful terrorists in Pakistan remain unstated—largely because Pakistan has been quite categorical in maintaining that the weapons are very well secured and also because the United States has little ability to deal effectively with this development without getting into an all-out conflict with Islamabad.
“¦ what U.S. policy towards Pakistan should be, Pakistans nuclear weapons arsenal and the fear of these weapons falling into the hands of the increasingly powerful terrorists in Pakistan remain unstated”¦
The static role of the U.S. during the entire episode of Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation is a measure of just how confused the U.S.–Pakistan relationship has been. The most interesting aspects of the almost three-decades-long proliferation operation carried out by the most important Pakistani engineer associated with the country’s nuclear facilities (Abdul Qadeer Khan, a “rogue” engineer claiming to have been acting on his own) is that the operation went unhindered for nearly a decade and a half.
Islamabad did very well in convincing the Bush administration that Khan was not helped in his nefarious ventures by the Pakistani establishment at any point, and has also prevented Washington from questioning Khan by not making him available for interrogation. Islamabad must be credited for this astonishing feat, especially since the Bush administration had made nuclear nonproliferation an important crusade.
In June 2004, months after Khan’s “secret” proliferation exploits surfaced all over the media, President G. W. Bush designated Pakistan a “Major Non-NATO Ally” (MNNA). The designation, long enjoyed by Japan, South Korea, Australia and other allies, makes Pakistan eligible for expedited access to excess defence articles and other privileges and was perhaps related to Pakistan’s planned purchase of American weapons. Again, as one reflects on the dance around the Khan episode and the Bush administration’s MNNA designation, one is immediately reminded of the pas de deux (French for “step dance of two”) with Washington helping Pakistan to put up a dazzling show.
The United States has declared itself satisfied with Pakistans security measures for its nuclear weapons, despite the rise of the Pakistani Taliban and other extremist groups.
It should also be noted that there are a few in the United States who would like to see Washington abandon its antagonism toward the weapons development and bring Pakistan into the nuclear fold. For instance, academic C. Christine Fair in her 23 March Foreign Policy article “Should Pakistan Get a Nuke Deal?” says: “Because Pakistan fears U.S. intentions regarding its nuclear arsenal, only the United States can address Pakistan’s neuralgic insecurity by acknowledging the country as an accepted — rather than merely tolerated — nuclear power. The United States has formally conceded India as a de jure nuclear power and has long supported Israel’s program actively and passively. Pakistan is the third country that went nuclear outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it wants the same explicit acceptance as the other two.”
Fair suggests that any civilian nuclear deal for Pakistan would have to be conditions-based. It would not be equivalent to India’s deal, which recognises India’s nonproliferation commitments and enables India to compete strategically with China globally. “A civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan has a different logic: to reset bilateral relations that are bedeviled with layers of mistrust on both sides.”
She says Pakistan disconcerts the world due to its nuclear proliferation record and because it supports myriad Islamist militants menacing the international community. “At the same time, the deal should address Pakistan’s chief concerns. Pakistan fears that the United States — perhaps in consort with India and Israel — seeks to dismantle its nuclear program. Such a deal would formally recognize Pakistan’s nuclear status and reward it for the considerable progress it has made to enhance its arsenal’s security since 2002.”
Islamabad fears that the further deterioration of bilateral relations would strengthen the hand of these terrorist groups, which have already gained a significant amount of ground within Pakistan in recent years.
But that is not to say that Fair’s views are widely shared within the administration. During the two-day (11–12 April) nuclear summit held in Washington, D.C., there were indications that Pakistani premier Yousuf Raza Gilani had come under increased pressure over his country’s nuclear arsenal when a Harvard study warned of “a very real possibility” that its warheads could be stolen by terrorists. The report was prepared by Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Titled “Securing the Bomb 2010,” it said Pakistan’s stockpile “faces a greater threat from Islamic extremists seeking nuclear weapons than any other nuclear stockpile on earth.” Experts said the danger was growing because of the arms race between Pakistan and India. The Institute for Science and International Security has reported that Pakistan’s second nuclear reactor, built to produce plutonium for weapons, shows signs of starting up operations, and a third is under construction.
The United States has declared itself satisfied with Pakistan’s security measures for its nuclear weapons, despite the rise of the Pakistani Taliban and other extremist groups. But the Harvard report says there are serious grounds for concern: “Despite extensive security measures, there is a very real possibility that sympathetic insiders might carry out or assist in a nuclear theft, or that a sophisticated outsider attack (possibly with insider help) could overwhelm the defenses.”
“¦it is also quite possible that in light of the growing economic and military strength of India, pressure could mount within the United States to attend to the Indian interest even at the cost of Pakistans interest.
Subsequently, at their White House meeting on 11 April, President Obama reportedly pressed Gilani to end Pakistan’s opposition to an international treaty that would ban the production of new fissile material for nuclear warheads, plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU). But, according to U.S. officials, the Pakistani leader showed no signs of bowing to the pressure.
Notwithstanding the pro- and anti-Pakistan elements who speak out from time to time in the United States, the relationship between these two nations is in a state of perpetual logjam. The main objective of both sides presently is to make sure that the relationship does not degenerate sharply because that would undermine the interests of both nations. What Washington fears is that a deterioration of bilateral relations would force Pakistan to step up support to various terrorist groups operating inside the country and within Afghanistan, many of which are engaged in an armed insurgency-like warfare against the U.S. and NATO troops. Islamabad fears that the further deterioration of bilateral relations would strengthen the hand of these terrorist groups, which have already gained a significant amount of ground within Pakistan in recent years.
At the same time, both nations are presently engaged in taking measures to eliminate some of the terrorists. While the U.S. approach, at least at this point in time, is to eliminate all of them, Pakistan is still very selective about who it eliminates—and this is another area of potential conflict that could widen the gap in mutual trust.
Jeremy Scahill, writing in The Nation on 31 December 2009, documents the presence of private security personnel of the U.S.-based company Blackwater working hand in glove with the U.S. Joint Special Operation Command (JSOC) on Pakistani soil, although both nations continue to deny this. It is a foregone conclusion that Islamabad not only dislikes this presence of foreign mercenaries but also is deeply fearful that when the issue explodes politically, it will deal a crushing blow to the government. As of now, however, it is convenient for both sides to stay in a state of denial about this development.
The United States is a mighty power, with interests spanning the globe, whose presence in Afghanistan, Central Asia and South Asia is of the utmost importance.
In terms of regional dynamics, it is also quite possible that in light of the growing economic and military strength of India, pressure could mount within the United States to attend to the Indian interest even at the cost of Pakistan’s interest. If Washington was to take a decision at some point in time to adopt such an approach, within the prevailing geometry in South Asia, Pakistan would be significantly shaken. It could also generate a wave of extreme anti-Americanism in Pakistan that would cause a critical rupture in the Washington-Islamabad relationship.
The fact that Pakistan has very few “real” friends in the region where it is located makes the situation more complicated. It has an almost nonexistent relationship with Russia, a hostile relationship with India and very little mutual interest–based interaction with the Central Asian nations. Even in its posture toward its neighbours, Pakistan will continue to be swayed by China and the Middle East nations. Because of its financial needs and requirement for subsidised fuel from the Middle East, Pakistan will have to assuage those parties and may have to accommodate them over and against any other nation in the region, should the situation demand it. That poses a very serious potential threat to U.S. interests.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty in the relationship between the United States and Pakistan lies in closing the differences that separate them in terms of long-term objectives. The United States is a mighty power, with interests spanning the globe, whose presence in Afghanistan, Central Asia and South Asia is of the utmost importance. But the only way Washington can maintain a significant presence in such a vast area is through interaction with the countries involved in maintaining regional stability and matching regional and the American national interests.
This means that the United States cannot afford to antagonise Russia, China, India, the Central Asian countries or the Middle East nations but must seek to work with them. This requires an extremely active and all-encompassing diplomacy that cannot afford to cater to one single nation’s interest in any given region. The key to U.S.–Pakistan relations lies in an intelligent U.S. engagement with the region.