The politics of US aid to Pakistan

Published: June 10, 2016
The writer works for the Jinnah Institute in Islamabad and is a graduate of Columbia University. She tweets @Sauliloquy1

The writer works for the Jinnah Institute in Islamabad and is a graduate of Columbia University. She tweets @Sauliloquy1

In a clear case of deja vu, the US has blocked $300 million in military aid to Pakistan, making the release of funds contingent on Islamabad taking demonstrable steps against the Haqqani network. This announcement follows a steady downturn in Pakistan-US relations that started with vitriolic US Senate debates over F-16 sales and culminated in the drone strike in Balochistan that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansoor. On May 28, Pakistan missed the deadline for the now-expired F-16 deal, thus closing the door on further negotiations. Back with the dated script is another instance of unilateral military action on Pakistani soil, accusations of sheltering terrorists, and debates over sovereignty. Even within Pakistan, questions are being asked about the ease with which Mullah Mansoor was able to transit through Balochistan.

That there is resentment on both sides is an understatement. That this resentment is insurmountable is questionable. The American narrative often sees Pakistan as an impediment to desired counterterrorism outcomes. In the face of irritants such as the Haqqanis, the F-16 issue in light of relations with India, and concerns over China’s growing prowess, US policymakers are losing trust in Pakistan and, once again, throwing around phrases such as ‘double game’ and ‘duplicitous’. But from Islamabad, the view is markedly different. Even as Pakistan singlehandedly fights the largest land war against terrorism in modern history and images of dead schoolchildren dominate headlines, spillover from the US-led war in Afghanistan remains a potent security concern. After having sustained a strategic partnership with the US since the 1960s, it is not unwarranted for Pakistan to expect support from its ally as the $1.9 billion cost of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and mounting rehabilitation costs of 400,000 IDPs quickly overshadow Coalition Support Fund (CSF) payments received since the operation was launched. That even these reimbursements are dwindling is not lost on Pakistan. In this climate, Congress’ refusal to co-finance the F-16 deal, as per the initial agreement, has struck a fresh blow to relations. This notwithstanding the added injury of US policymakers’ increased responsiveness to Indian concerns and elevated defence relations with India.

Even as the strategic imbalance in South Asia continues to disadvantage Pakistan, failures in Afghanistan are offloaded onto Pakistan’s doorstep. With the Afghan Taliban unwilling to negotiate, the international community, in general, and Washington, in particular, assumes Pakistan is either unreliable or incompetent as a partner, an impression made clear by the unilateral airstrike and decision to inform Pakistan after the fact. That the ground reality is much more complex matters little. For a Capitol Hill pushing budget cuts and convinced that the conflict in Afghanistan is Pakistan’s mess to clean up, cutting financial assistance is the clear answer.

It is no secret that US involvement with Pakistan has been tied to interests in Afghanistan for the last decade and a half. About half of all US aid to Pakistan since 2002 has come as CSF payments and reimbursement for expenses incurred in support of US operations in Afghanistan. So far, Pakistan has received $13 billion in CSF payments with payments falling from $1 billion per year in 2014 to $700 million in 2015. Other security-related assistance has gone down from $1.2 billion in 2011 to $300 million today. Despite this,military aid still towers over economic assistance — as has largely been the case since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — which has been stuck at $500 million per year. Though security-related assistance may be characterised as aid, it is not exactly that, since it is received in exchange for Pakistani support to the US-led war in Afghanistan. That it can be made contingent on outcomes desired by the US reinforces this notion. As such, parliamentary voices in Pakistan look at it more as a quid pro quo arrangement than a favour, and are quick to recall how US military assistance has helped empower the armed forces against civilian governments in the past. Non-military US assistance to Pakistan, including USAID programmes for humanitarian response, power generation, literacy, maternal health and higher education initiatives such as Fulbright, have been well-received. Economic aid and cultural exchange initiatives have gone a long way in correcting misinterpretations on both sides but their role is constantly overshadowed by the security-related problems that plague bilateral relations.

As the economy falls short of meeting growth targets and the well of US aid dries up, Islamabad looks to cement alternative alliances. With many pointing to the $46 billion CPEC as a golden opportunity, the ‘all-weather’ Pakistan-China friendship grows stronger. Meanwhile, the $2 billion North-South gas pipeline with Russia, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, TAPI and CASA-1000 promise greater cooperation within the region. On the defence front, arms deals and joint training exercises with China, and talks on helicopter, defence system and tank sales with Russia, are underway. Even so, it must not be ignored that the Pakistan-US relationship remains paramount. If the relationship is to survive in the long run, the mutual trust deficit cannot be swept under the rug for interminable lengths of time. For Pakistan, this means moving towards greater self-reliance and evolving foreign policy beyond the transactional. For the US, it means moving away from solely militaristic partnerships, extending consistent support to strengthening democratic governments and helping Pakistan achieve development goals. This would benefit both players and help maintain regional stability. The alternative i.e., further polarisation, on the strategic and economic fronts, in a part of the world perpetually haunted by the spectre of conflict, would be singularly unhelpful.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2016.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (11)

  • Woz ahmed
    Jun 11, 2016 - 2:51AM

    Let us stop begging for aid and gradually engage with our neighbours in trade, so one day we can hold our head high when we aid other countries on the path to development.Recommend

  • mansoon
    Jun 11, 2016 - 5:46AM

    beggars as alwaysRecommend

  • wiserneighbours
    Jun 11, 2016 - 6:31AM

    I have a simple question.Do you support America’s war on terror by giving sanctuary to Top terrorists of the world who massacres innocent civilians?Recommend

  • Spectator
    Jun 11, 2016 - 7:19AM

    What Pakistan needs:
    • Stop begging.
    • Start earning.
    • Begin good relations with neighboring countries (this is important).
    • Start producing your own products and services, begin trade with neighbors.
    • Love your neighbors.
    • Find and Eliminate ALL TERRORIST GROUPS there is no good or bad. They’re terrorists it’s simple as that and your job is to kill them and protect your country, civilians and allies.
    • Study history, it’s important to know how things began and how they are now. Pakistan should be on USA’s side killing the terrorists, non-stop – these terrorists are traitors to their own faith which preaches peace and love, along with harmony between humanity. The terrorists are killing innocent human lives everywhere – we must defend human lives! This Is Pakistan!Recommend

  • jay
    Jun 11, 2016 - 11:44AM

    Pakistan just needs 1 thing, HONESTY ! Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jun 11, 2016 - 9:17PM

    Find and Eliminate ALL TERRORIST GROUPS there is no good or bad. They’re terrorists it’s simple as that and your job is to kill them and protect your country, civilians and allies.

    No wonder the country’s sovereignty is being questioned by the Indians and the yankees; it is not fully implementing what is required of Pakistan by the Yankees and the Indians. .Is it not about time to show the adversaries the stick instead which has continuously been used aginst own people?

    Rex Minor Recommend

  • fourtheye
    Jun 12, 2016 - 1:06AM

    When Taliban were friends ruling Afghanistan, why could not Musharraf convince them to hand over OBL. With this no war, no so many billions loss and loss of life mostly Pakistanis.
    Why allowed refugees and Taliban inside Pak? They should have sealed the border foreseeing the trouble.
    Now ensure no Taliban in present inside Pak, deport them to Afghanistan,or they will be killed on sight. By doing this Afghan will be in peace, Kabul regime will listen to you, relations will improve. Otherwise all neighbours, America and the west will think you are supporting terrorists, and cut down their relations gradually. That is what is happening now.
    China is looking for economical exploitation and cannot replace west, middle east and rest of the world.

  • sterry
    Jun 12, 2016 - 1:07AM

    @mansoon and Woz Ahmed: India remains the biggest beggar nation and historically has received the most US aid. So how can trading with the biggest beggar India help Pakistan? At least Pakistan is owed tens of billions for ending the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan.Recommend

  • SAG
    Jun 12, 2016 - 4:34AM

    Pakistan lacks strategic foreign policy. Absence of competent team, continuous threat for democratic govt to make long term policies and corruption at higher levels have plagued our country. As long Pakistan decision makers continue to wait for bounty, they will carry on with miopic vision and continue to sell their conscience. USA and rest of the world should realise that they made these people addicted of favours and unaccounted cash for their interest and they are still doing the same. I don’t take Talibans or other terrorists as root cause. They are secondary to the world policy of power game. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jun 12, 2016 - 6:17AM

    why could not Musharraf convince them to hand over OBL.

    Have you ever heard of Pakhtunwali? Besides no country in the world would extradite the one given asylum unless a crime has been proven.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Dipak
    Aug 25, 2016 - 3:44AM

    Tha $300 was overcharged bill for war made up by Raheel Sharif because he wanted to give his soldier one BMW each. Now Nawaz and Zardari will buy those cars for te soldiers.Recommend

More in Opinion