Written by Tawab Malekzad
Over the past few years, a series of events have brought U.S.-Pakistan relations to a historic low-point. First, the alleged killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor led to a long and strenuous legal battle.
Relations between the two countries further deteriorated over the covert raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad in May 2011, which led the U.S. government to suspend its aid in July of the same year.
The relationship between the two countries hit its lowest point when Pakistan later blocked U.S. and NATO supply routes to Afghanistan in response to a deadly U.S. airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the country’s border with Afghanistan.
The Pakistani border-closure led to a situation in which thousands of NATO supply trucks were stranded at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Seven months later, the border was reopened after an official apology was issued by the U.S. government.
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According to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. government has not provided any military assistance to Pakistan since these events. However, as the withdrawal date of U.S. troops from Afghanistan looms closer, the State Department increasingly perceives the importance of Pakistan’s military in continuing the fight against terrorism.
These considerations led to the U.S. decision to provide over $1.6 billion in aid to Pakistan, beginning in 2014. Over half of this aid package will be spent on Pakistan’s military.
The U.S. should cut military aid instead
Pakistan could be a critical ally to the United States in the near future and this aid package could heal the fragmented relations between the two countries. However, reality seems to suggest that the aid package may end up being counterproductive to the United States’ regional mission of fighting terrorism along Pakistan’s northern border.
Since 9/11, the Pakistani military has received from the U.S. over $20 billion in aid for counterterrorism purposes. From time to time, the U.S. and Pakistani militaries have been cooperative in their counterterrorism efforts. However, the Pakistani military has been more selective than its U.S. partner has as to which groups to fight.
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In the past, the Pakistani military has provided protection and support for the Afghan Taliban. More importantly, according to credible sources, including former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, the Pakistani government and its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have provided support and military assistance to insurgent groups. One such group, the Haqqani network, which operates along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, has reportedly received substantial support from the ISI.
So, while Pakistan’s military assists the Haqqani network in Pakistan, the U.S. is busy fighting the same network in Afghanistan. In other words, it seems that the U.S. is fighting an enemy while at the same time funding it indirectly through its aid to Pakistan.
Thus, the U.S. government may want to consider the option of cutting its military aid to Pakistan. In the long run, funding Pakistan may be counterproductive in fighting terrorism.
However, there is an argument in support of continuing the provision of aid to Pakistan. Part of this option would entail Islamabad cutting its relations with the Taliban.
But realistically and historically, this scenario is neither feasible nor possible because of the strong ties between the military, the ISI, and the militia groups in the region.
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Critics have generally overstated the negative effects of cutting military aid. After the raid on Bin Laden, the United States cut nearly $3 billion in aid to Pakistan. However, Islamabad’s reaction was not as harsh as one would have expected.
There was a general fear that the U.S. supply routes to Afghanistan that went through Pakistan would be blocked. Yet, they remained open because the routes provide an important source of income for the Pakistani government.
Therefore, if the U.S. government opts once again for cutting its aid, it is unlikely that Pakistan will block U.S. supply routes. And finally, cutting military aid would also cut funding for insurgent groups such as the Haqqani and other Taliban networks in the region.
More focus on economic aid
Obviously, cutting all aid would be a bad idea. Pakistan is a nuclear-weapons state and it needs financial stability. This means that the U.S. should only provide economic aid. This type of aid would help stabilize Pakistan’s economy in the short term and would foster sustainable economic growth in the long run.
Although the Pakistani government is well-known for its corruption records, providing economic aid is the only smart policy, because it would prevent Pakistan, a nuclear-weapons state, from collapsing and providing an opportunity for one of the many militant groups in the region to take over the country.
An unstable Pakistan would be a bigger threat not only for the region’s security, but for the international community as a whole.