An Ultimatum to Islamabad
by Charles Lemos, Mon Dec 07, 2009 at 10:10:05 PM EST
The New York Times informs us that according to officials in both the US and Pakistan that the Obama Administration "is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan." According to the Times, the rather blunt message was delivered in a tense encounter in Pakistan last month during a high level visit by Gen. James L. Jones, the National Security Adviser, and John O. Brennan, the White House Counterterrorism Chief, to Islamabad. Then and there in a meeting with the heads of Pakistan's military and its intelligence service, the ISI, we again repeated what we have so often told the Pakistani leadership. Get on with it if you would please. Now would be good.
According to US officials with knowledge of the "blunt talks" amongst friends, this oft-repeated warning did not amount to an ultimatum, but rather it was intended to prod a reluctant Pakistani military to go after Taliban insurgents in Pakistan who are directing attacks in Afghanistan. Oh and by the way, here is $2.3 billion in military aid this year for your efforts another $2.3 billion next year. Certainly, that is a bit of a mixed message.
Our economic aid package takes a more direct approach. The recently passed bipartisan Kerry-Lugar Pakistan Assistance Act authorizes a grant of $1.5 billion in economic aid annually over the next five years. Mind you since the Kerry-Lugar package does come with conditions, this has not pleased many quarters in Pakistan.
Shayan Khan of the Pakistan Spectator is typical. Back in October he wrote:
Pakistan's concerns over Kerry-Lugar bill are there for sure, but they are not that important. The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has backed a bill that would triple economic assistance for Pakistan, a key US ally in the fight against terrorism, to 7.5 billion dollars over five years. But it perhaps come as a surprise for the Kerry that Pakistanis don't really think much of any aid or such things. They want US to take them as humans like themselves and to understand that the people dying from the drone attacks are 99% Pakistanis, and only perhaps 1% are anything to do with militancy. (The) war on terror has given Pakistan the gory gifts of suicide attacks and bomb blasts and the economic life in Pakistan has come to a grinding halt.
While the ratio of non-combatants to militants killed in the stepped up drone attacks is more likely 1:3, the perception in Pakistan is that it is 99:1. That's certainly a problem but even more of a problem is the view that Pakistan's problems stem from the US-led war against the radical Islam and not from radical Islam itself. Never mind that Pakistan has outsourced its education system to Saudi-funded madrassas that teach particular virulent strains of Islam. The Pakistanis are seemingly oblivious to this problem.
Instead of funding an educational system, Pakistan prefers to invest in tanks. Pakistan spends only 2.3 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education - the lowest level of any country in South Asia - as compared to 3.6 percent on average for other nations in Asia and 3.4 percent in low-income countries overall. This puts Pakistan in the bottom quarter of countries world-wide. Military spending, meanwhile, accounts for 3.5 percent of GDP, an amount that places Pakistan in the top quarter of countries world-wide. The result of inadequate funding for education is that only about half of Pakistani adults can read and write, compared to 92 percent in Sri Lanka and 60 percent in India.
For Adil Najam, the Frederick S. Pardee Professor of Global Public Policy at Boston University, writing in All Things Pakistan, the Kerry-Lugar Act speaks to a "deficit trust" and to a "tainted relationship."
For its [Pakistani] critics the answer is straight-forward and can be summarized in one word: conditionality. The critic's wrath is not really about what the Kerry-Lugar Bill promises; it is about what the Kerry-Lugar Bill demands. Call it concerns about sovereignty, about imperialism, about national pride, or whatever else, but many Pakistanis are clearly feeling insulted because they think they have been presented with a `bill of demands' and being asked to sell out cheap.
One can dissect things deep in search of hidden meanings and clues. Too many people are already doing that and it really does not help. The problem is deep. But it is not hidden.
The debate we are now seeing is one more manifestation of the deep deficits of trust that have marked all US-Pakistan relations. In the absence of trust, Pakistanis - even those who might otherwise support this Bill - simply refuse to accept that America could possibly be interested in Pakistan's interests. For the very same reasons, Americans - even those who strongly wish to see a stronger Pakistan - simply refuse to acknowledge the intensity with which Pakistan has always sought "friends, not masters."
The fact of the matter is that if the U.S. had any trust whatsoever in the Pakistani state or the Pakistani people, this Bill would not have been crafted in the language it is. By the same token, if Pakistanis had any trust whatsoever in the United States their reaction would not have been what it is even if the Bill were written as it is. The US-Pakistan relationship is a most reluctant international relationship. The Kerry-Lugar Bill is a good example of this. Here is support that the Americans would much rather never have been `made' to give to Pakistan. Here is support that Pakistanis would much rather never have been `made' to accept.
And herein lies the real problem of Pakistan-US relations. Neither trusts the other. Each can give many reasons - and some of them, in each case, are very valid - why, but that matters little. The result is a tainted and reluctant relationship.
Professor Najam is correct. The relationship is tainted, perhaps even beyond repair. While we can be accused of having abandoned Pakistan in the 1990s - one Pakistani General suggested that US treated Pakistan as a discarded used condom - the reality is also the Pakistani élites (one percent of the population) lack a developmentalist ethos and treat the country's 160 million people as feudal subjects on a medieval manor and more critically much of the Pakistani military and intelligence services has an India obsession and continue to perceive that the greatest threat to Pakistan as lying across the plains of the Punjab and not within its own territory. To expect this segment of the Pakistani establishment to change their deep-seeded paranoia is futile. It's hard to know who is more irrational the Pakistani leadership or us with our hopes that Pakistan's élites have turned some proverbial corner. At times, it is hard to tell who is the pawn and who is the chess master. Certainly, we have been played as fools by Pakistani generals in the past.
For years we have heard this refrain "Pakistan's civilian and military leaders must finally be persuaded that this is not just America's war, but rather this fight is central to their own survival." And we continue to utter such blunt and stern messages at all too frequent regular intervals to no avail.
The Obama Administration prides itself on its "realist" approach to vexing foreign policy issues. If such is the case, then the Administration should proceed with a tersely worded and explicit ultimatum to Islamabad and moreover be prepared to act unilaterally as needed. Otherwise, we are simply enabling the most dysfunctional bilateral relationship on the planet. And if the Administration is not prepared to countenance such measures, then perhaps it should rethink its Afghan escalation. For if success is in any way predicated on getting Pakistan to act decisively (and in the view of at least some in the Pakistani establishment against Pakistan's own national interests), then such policy is doomed to failure.