“Pakistan’s economy is both parlous and perilously-poised, despite frequent juggling of numbers in a country that does not even conduct a regular census. With economic growth barely matching projected population growth, it is reduced to living on aid and remittances. Even aid is starting to dwindle after its familiar patrons in the Gulf have pulled the plug and its sugar daddy China has not come through with the expected bail-outs.” – Chidanand Rajghatta
Pakistan’s bottomfeeding on American aid is about to end unless it terminates its policy of covertly using terrorism to further its frontiers, the Obama administration has conveyed to Islamabad, amid indications that the US is also making Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s proposed visit to Washington conditional to meeting this objective.
A key administration official on Thursday said there has been no announcement about a Sharif visit to Washington in October although the trip had been widely reported in the Pakistani media based on briefings from diplomats in Islamabad. “This is news to me. We have not made any statements about that (Sharif’s visit to Washington),” Peter Lavoy, special assistant to the US president and senior director for south asian affairs at the national security council of the White House, told PTI. “If it is pakka (final) you would be the first to hear.”
The rethink—or at least holding back the announcement—of the visit comes after the administration conveyed to Islamabad that it will not certify the effectiveness of Pakistan counterterrorism operation to Congress to enable passage of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), the military reimbursement aid that goes towards keeping Pakistan solvent.
As part of its rentier-state ethos, Pakistan provides logistical support to US and coalition forces in Afghanistan and in turn bills Washington for reimbursement. Pakistan has extracted more than $13 billion from the US since the coalition forces swooped into Afghanistan.
The CSF was scheduled to end following the US drawdown from Afghanistan in December 2014, but the Obama government extended the program for another year through a legislation containing additional conditions, including a requirement for certification by the defence secretary that Pakistani military operations are rolling up terrorist networks, including the Haqqani group in North Waziristan.
But true to form, Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment has again suckered Washington fooling the US by keeping the death from illnesses of Taliban supremo Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani while trying to manage their succession.
The manipulation, coming after Osama bin Laden being sheltered in Abbottabad, has further eroded trust in a country with a long history of lying and dissembling. Although US policy of forbearance is centered around its fear of Pakistan’s collapse, that tolerance is being tested in the face of the Pakistani military-intelligence’s serial malfeasance, including its continued patronage of terrorists associated with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in which six Americans died.
“The US move is politically more damaging for Islamabad than its financial impact, which is significant nevertheless for being an important source for narrowing the current account deficit. More importantly, it coincided with the deterioration in ties with Afghanistan because of Kabul’s allegations that Islamabad continued to harbor Taliban bases from where attacks were being launched,” Karachi’s Dawn newspaper, which first reported the rupture, said on Thursday.
“The US decision is also likely to sour ties in the run-up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s scheduled visit to White House in October,” it added.
Pakistan’s economy is both parlous and perilously-poised, despite frequent juggling of numbers in a country that does not even conduct a regular census. With economic growth barely matching projected population growth, it is reduced to living on aid and remittances. Even aid is starting to dwindle after its familiar patrons in the Gulf have pulled the plug and its sugar daddy China has not come through with the expected bail-outs.
Desperate to keep the US pipeline open, the Pakistani military, which runs the country’s foreign policy on behalf of the nominal civilian government, has been decimating its civilian population with every-day air-strikes this week in North Waziristan, announcing dozens of dead “militants” which no one is able to authenticate due to lack of access.
However, the country’s continued patronage of terrorists on its eastern flank with India, including its protection of UN designated terrorists such as Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, indicates there has been no fundamental change in its policy.
With Pakistan’s salience to American objectives declining in the context of US outreach to Iran and the drawdown in Afghanistan, some scholars are now pressing for a review of Washington’s ties with Islamabad. In a Foreign Affairs magazine piece headlined “An Unworthy Ally,” C. Christine Fair and Sumit Ganguly have argued that the time has come for Washington to “cut Pakistan loose,” going as far as to suggest punitive sanctions against Pakistani elite, including visa denials to its top generals and officials who support terrorism.
Extracts from Foreign Affairs article by C. Christine Fair and Sumit Ganguly:
- “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 behaviors, it should at least stop sponsoring them.”
- “The strategic demands of today’s South Asia are distinct from those of the Cold War era, but the central dynamic of US-Pakistani relations remains constant. The United States turns a blind eye to Pakistan’s misdeeds because it depends on the country’s leaders to counter US enemies in the region-first the Soviets, now the melange of militant groups active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, the United States has subsidized both the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and its stable of Islamist terrorists through programs ostensibly created to manage those same concerns.”
- “Despite Barack Obama’s understanding of Pakistan’s misdeeds … his administration, like his predecessor’s, has failed to develop policies that limit American complicity in them. As a result, Washington has continued to pay Pakistan to do what any sovereign state should do: eliminate terrorists exploiting its territory.”
- “All the while, the United States has not required Pakistan to stop backing militant groups, such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, even as Islamabad battles those militants who have turned against the state. Indeed, Islamabad has created a permanent revenue stream by arguing that so long as it is fighting militants, it should be entitled to US aid. The United States has been willing to comply because it considers the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons a core national interest.”
- “Past attempts to induce Pakistan to change its behavior 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 US interests with a different approach.”
- “A strategy of containment is the United States’ best option. Above all, US relations with Pakistan should be premised on the understanding that Pakistan is a hostile state, rather than an ally or a partner.” – The Times of India, Aug 21, 2015
» Chidanand Rajghatta is The Times of India’s US-based Foreign Editor, long-time Washington DC scribe and sutradhar.
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