(Photo Credit: BBC)
Katherine Tiedemann is a Program Associate at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
Ahmed Rashid, a venerable Pakistani journalist, has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post in which he argues that the United States should remove its conditions from the 5 year, $7.5 billion aid package we have proposed giving to Pakistan. The clumsily named “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act” put forth by Senators Kerry and Lugar would triple current levels of non-military aid to the country, with an emphasis on economic growth and development. A new version was introduced yesterday.
President Obama called for the Senate to pass this bill, previous iterations of which have been floating around Congress since last year, during the March roll-out of his Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review.
What is not debatable is that the security situation in Pakistan is deteriorating, as the Taliban advances in Buner and hundreds of thousands of refugees flee their homes in Swat valley and nearby areas. Ahmed Rashid argues that because the situation on the ground is so ghastly and the political consequences in Pakistan would be too severe, the United States should offer the Kerry-Lugar aid without conditions, at least for the first year.
While it is true that it would be difficult for Pakistan’s military to accept some of the proposed conditions, what Rashid doesn’t address is the fact that the United States can’t even politically offer the aid without conditions.
The United States has given nearly eleven billion dollars in military aid to Pakistan since 2001, and the security situation in Pakistan during that time frame has only gone from bad to worse. The Bush administration did not demand accounting for the funds, and it’s been an open joke in Washington that US investment in Pakistan has not paid off.
Since 2001, Pakistan has served as a re-basing point for al Qaeda, which merged ideologically and tactically with the Taliban. Suicide attacks and insurgent attacks in Pakistan have risen drastically, and views of the US — never very high to begin with — are now down in the teens. Almost all, if not all, of the major terrorist attacks against the West in the last seven years have some connection to the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Anthony Cordesman highlights troubling security trends in Pakistan here.
Some of the conditions in the previous incarnations of the Kerry-Lugar bill – that Pakistan certify there is no activity taking place against India, for example – have already been eased out of the bill, long before the aid is ever distributed. Shuja Nawaz, a longtime Pakistan analyst, dourly pointed out that even if Pakistan checked the India box, “does it actually have enough control to prevent another Mumbai type of attacks?”
Most of the remaining conditions are very sensible – to certify that the security forces of Pakistan are true partners in the fights against al Qaeda and the Taliban, for instance, should be a reasonable promise to make.
And so, with this week’s DC trilateral summit between Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, and President Obama upon us, hopefully the presidents will be able to agree upon at least a few conditions acceptable to both the US and Pakistan. It would be a mistake to continue Bush’s policy of asking for no accountability from Pakistan–but it would also be a mistake to attach so many strings such that Pakistan’s leaders, too tangled in domestic politics, cannot accept the aid they need. We need to reach a solution quickly.
After all, the lives and livelihoods of more than half a million Pakistani civilians in the Swat Valley–plus millions more across Pakistan–hang in the balance.
— Katherine Tiedemann