Biden’s Approach to Pakistan — Perhaps Presidential


In discussing Pakistan on a media conference call today, Foreign Relations Chairman Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) advocated a more nuanced policy attuned to the regional contours and contemporary contingencies than the U.S. political and electoral arena will usually allow. Biden described the Pakistani state of national emergency as unsustainable and, without rehashing another democratic sermon on the mount, called on the U.S. to utilize a number of levers at its disposal to move President Musharraf and Pakistan away from this extremely precarious position.
The four part plan he laid out included large, unconditional financial support for non-security projects such as schools, roads, clinics, etc; conditioning of security aid on performance; support for judicial, political, and good government reforms; and finally and increase in public diplomacy and high impact support.
Sen. Biden first correctly linked the current instability to the administration’s poor management and near desertion of Afghanistan by early 2002. He downplayed the notion that the rise of terrorism resulted from the absence of a fully functioning liberal democracy in Pakistan, instead arguing that Musharraf saw the U.S. packing up its bags in Afghanistan soon after the invasion (in preparation for Iraq) and responded by hedging against the U.S. departure and cutting other “Faustian bargains.” Pakistan had experience being burned by the U.S. in the past. They were left holding the bag and contending with unmanageable militants when the U.S. — after partnering with Pakistan to foster and back the mujahedeen in the late 80s to counter the Soviet threat — promptly departed.
A second assessment the senator made concerned the failure of the U.S. to extend engagement to the Pakistani moderate majority. While Musharraf is conveniently being treated as the fall guy who snuffed out democracy in his country, it’s important to remember that the U.S. abetted this trend by raising expectations by declaring democracy was on the march and then failing to broaden its engagement in Pakistan and Afghanistan (as they both shared the territory that formed the hotbed of terrorism). This was a result of our policy to deal with al Qaeda on the cheap — to simply fund the Pakistani military to kill terrorists rather than invest in altering the structures that gave rise to terrorism. A Musharraf policy rather than a Pakistan policy derived from limited U.S. interest and attention span.
The fact is the United States has never demonstrated its commitment to engage the broader Pakistani public for the long haul. Sen. Biden has suggested we do otherwise but he’s honest about the front-end costs. While the U.S. needs to move Musharraf away from the unsustainable state of emergency he has declared, it will not be done on the cheap with platitudes of democracy and the quick fix of an election date. It will take, as the senator suggested, an unconditional, long-term investment in economic and political structures that will enfranchise larger parts of the population and signal to the Pakistani people, government, and military the seriousness of our engagement. Only broad, long-term investment will begin to engender confidence amongst civilians to ally with the U.S. and trust within the military and intelligence services to cooperate further and stop hedging against our expected departure.

I’m not certain conditioning security funds is the most likely way to quell instability and continue our mission of combating violent extremist elements in the Northwest frontier province. (It’s worth noting that in a phone interview on CNN last night, even Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry refrained from calling on conditional funding concerned that it might threaten Pakistan’s national interest and well-being). But I do think we need to heavily support political reforms and good governance with more tangible incentives and less sermonizing. Finally, we can no longer afford to watch the pitch go by when it comes to public diplomacy and high impact support. Biden mentioned U.S. aid after the Pakistani earthquake in late 2005 as a success story but in actuality, we missed a huge opportunity. Regional analysts suggested that a large display of U.S. support and compassion, like the kind that more than doubled our local public support in Indonesia after the Tsunami, was in order. But the U.S. waited too long and offered too little that others, like the Cubans, filled the void we left.
While Sen. Biden spoke many truths today, he was not able to admit what is an anathema to most U.S. politicians — that our influence over this situation is rather limited and waning (especially as we have slipped in recent years in our strategic and moral credibility). Pakistan itself still needs to embark upon a national dialogue — first centered on issues of national security, and second on the military’s relationship to society. Most Pakistanis do not yet see it in their interest to ally with the U.S. to fight is ostensibly our war on terrorism (though a shift may be palpable as terrorists are beginning to move from the frontier provinces to attacking urban centers). And because the military has historically been the modernizing vanguard contrasted against a series of incompetent and perpetually feuding civilian governments, the military has perhaps received too much latitude from the Pakistani public.
The U.S. can try to back a certain process or simply broker political stopgaps — like a Mushrraf-Bhutto deal — to ease the transition. But the real heavy lifting will eventually have to be done by the Pakistani people and institutions. The best thing we can do to shape the process is to invest in a steady set of incentives gradually leading Pakistani military and civilian institutions in a more constructive and stable direction.
At the same time, Sen. Biden was right to step back and caution against distracting ourselves by creating new strategic quandaries, for instance opening up another military front against Iran. Our near abandonment of Afghanistan in 2002 and our current Pakistan problem it subsequently gave rise to should remind us of the costs of such an endeavor.
— Sameer Lalwani


5 comments on “Biden’s Approach to Pakistan — Perhaps Presidential

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  2. Dirk says:

    Great article Sameer.
    Coming from Biden, I’m surprised it didn’t call for the break up of Pakistan into smaller more manageable pieces. It sounds like he has a much better understanding than I gave him credit for, if not without a degree of arrogance.
    It’s easy to pick on Pakistan until you consider the many extenuating circumstances. While the intial coup to get rid of the corrupt Sharif was good, it sadly left only the Islamists as the sole viable opposition. Reconciling with the slightly less corrupt Bhutto and reviving the PPP as a viable opposition is a winner.
    I also don’t think many Americans appreciate that Pakistan had to first make somewhat of a peace with India before it could shift its troops to its western border to take on al Qaeda. They have also taken upwards of 700 casualties on/near the Afghan border.
    It’s good to know that Biden at least grasps some of these facts.


  3. Concerned says:

    Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo had Spencer Ackerman address the funding issue in the last 48 hours. It seems we fund Musharraf himself, not specific programs, not even sending funds for individual projects. Just lump sums direct to the President of Pakistan.
    “Condi Rice told reporters that the money we provide Pakistan really isn’t to Musharraf or his government as it is to the people of Pakistan.”
    But it turns out that it really is to Musharraf. Spencer provides the details. But the upshot is that the great bulk of the more than $10 billion we’ve given to Pakistan since 9/11 has been in the form of unsupervised and unaudited cash transfers. We cut him a check and he can do with it whatever he wants. It’s not tied to a specific US Agency or program; it’s just cash to do with as he pleases.
    In other words, we’re funding his dictatorship.


  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Amazing. It occurs to me that so many unbelievable events have occurred in regards to Bush’s policies towards Pakistan that we no longer have any foundation with which to dissect what has occurred. Simply put, we have forgotten too much.
    First, I find it absolutely flabbergasting that the ISI general, Mahmud Ahmed, that was known to have sent money to Mohammed Atta in the months leading up to 9/11 was never prosecuted for his role, or even pursued. How can we possibly respect, or believe in, Bush’s so called GWOT when one of the known financial middlemen was not even pursued, and the country employing him is inexplicably declared a “most valuable ally”?
    The second event is even more inexplicable, and that is the Pakistani airlift we,(our military), allowed while we were initially engaged in Afghanistan. It was known that Taliban, and quite possibly “Al Qaeda”, (if you believe in those boogie men), were airlifted out of Afghanistan. It is thought by some that Mullah Omar was among them. Whats up with that?
    But, the fact is, these things have been “forgotten”, and aren’t even mentioned anymore.
    We will never know the full extent of what these criminals in the Bush Administration, (as well as the Democratic “leadership”), have done behind closed doors. Even the actual event of 9/11 becomes a murky miasma of question marks and insane premises as the shock of the event wears off.
    One thing is for sure, with these fucking treasonous cowards currently leading the charge to soil the rugs in the White House, we will never know the truth about what has occurred. But you can bet we will suffer the effects of it, for generations to come.


  5. Dave Huntsman says:

    Sameer, I disagree that we are as hopeless as everyone seems to keep suggesting. And one thing that is not coming out of Washington is any demand for the restoration of the judiciary. Finally having a judiciary with some independence is critical to a future modern Pakistan; yet the General attacked it this past week much more than he did ‘radicals’.
    Without the military, Musharaff – who seems determined to drag Pakistan down at any cost in order to protect himself – is nothing. And without a change, I think Pakistan will continue to degenerate.
    Pakistan’s military officers have gotten very used to funding from the US; funding that should now be put in jeopardy unless a few, very clear identifiable actions are taken. Because without this minimum list, Pakistan is likely to be ‘lost’ anyway.
    Like Joe Biden, civil infrastructure et al projects of any sort should be left untouched. But ALL military aid should be cancelled if the following is not done in two weeks:
    – reinstatement of the judiciary.
    – end of all repression and censorship of the press, and of lawyers and judges;
    – release of all detained journalists, lawyers, and judges.
    The Pakistani military has shown itself to have no interest – or competence – in fighting true militancy. Yet they’ve continued to live high on the hog in recent years. Those officers under Musharaff need to be made an offer they can’t refuse.


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