A Fateful Fortnight
by Charles Lemos, Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 10:59:52 PM EDT
According to Fox News, the commander of US Central Command, General David Petraeus has made some rather blunt comments to unnamed US officials offering a stark assessment of the situation in Pakistan. In General Petraeus' view the next two weeks are critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive.
"The Pakistanis have run out of excuses" and are "finally getting serious" about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of Northwest Pakistan, the general added.
But Petraeus also said wearily that "we've heard it all before" from the Pakistanis and he is looking to see concrete action by the government to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States' next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counterinsurgency training and foreign aid.
Petraeus made these assessment in talks with lawmakers and Obama administration officials this week, according to individuals familiar with the discussions.
They said Petraeus and senior administration officials believe the Pakistani army, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is "superior" to the civilian government, led by President Ali Zardari, and could conceivably survive even if Zardari's government falls to the Taliban.
Pakistan has indeed run out of excuses but whether it has run out of time remains an open question. The Taliban are a destabilizing threat but it is hard to envision "bearded guys with Kalashnikovs and a nostalgia for the 7th century" toppling the world's sixth largest army, and a very professional one at that, in an open battle. Yet at the same time, this isn't the Battle of the Punjab that the Pakistani army has been prepping for since 1947, the existential threat is an insidious one for which Pakistan may not be fully prepared. It is also an open question whether global policy makers have yet realized that Pakistan is a failed state not because the bearded ones stand at the gates of Buner but rather because the Pakistani elites care more about their own welfare than they do about the survival of the experiment that is Pakistan.
But there's another battle shaping up. This one is in Washington and it is over how to best assist Pakistan, a thankless task if there ever was one.
The anxiety with which U.S. officials are monitoring events in Pakistan is compounded by a battle here at home over how best to help the Pakistanis. Some members of Congress want to attach benchmarks to any aid provided to Islamabad -- a move opposed by the Obama administration -- while still others wish to transfer authority over key funding streams from the Defense Department to the State Department, also opposed by the administration.
At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo. asserted that the existing funding mechanism, the Coalition Support Initiative, under which the U.S. reimburses Pakistan for military expenditures undertaken in support of the U.S. global war on terror, "is not serving the interests of either our country or Pakistan very well."
Michele Flournoy, U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, rejected that view, saying the initiative has proved "absolutely critical" to the missions in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
At the same hearing, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, whose bureau oversees South and Central Asia, told lawmakers the Obama administration favors the Defense Department retaining control over the new funding mechanism for Pakistan being proposed, a Title X provision entitled the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund (PCCF).
The goal of PCCF is to provide funding for the immediate training and equipping of the Pakistani army to fight a counterinsurgency war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The Pakistani army, U.S. officials say, has historically been modeled to fight a conventional war against India, as opposed to unconventional warfare against non-state actors like terrorist groups.
The numbers proposed are not insignificant. Top Pentagon and Administration officials have asked the Congress to earmark part of a $400 million package on training and equipping the Pakistani army to fight insurgents within its borders immediately and provide up to another $4 billion over the next five years. Furthermore, the Obama Administration is opposing attempts by Congressional Democrats to attach strings to billions of dollars in proposed aid. If this all sounds like more blank cheques which the Pakistani cash at the Fund the Next War with India rather than at the Bank of Saving Pakistan, it is. It remains impossible to trust the current Pakistani government which leads me back to General Petraeus' stark assessment. It has me wondering if it is a signal to Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani to save the nation, so to speak. With President Ali Asif Zardari due in Washington for "talks", it should make for an interesting if not fateful fortnight.
I'll also note that over on The Daily Beast, Fatima Bhutto, the niece of Benazir Bhutto and a family rebel, begs President Obama to "stop funding my failed state".
It's phenomenally silly to give that kind of money to a president who, before becoming president, was facing corruption cases in Switzerland, Spain, and England. Zardari and his wife, the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, are estimated to have stolen upwards of $3 billion from the Pakistani Treasury--a figure Zardari doesn't seem desperate to disprove, he placed his personal assets before becoming president at over $1 billion.
It's also dangerous. No amount of money, especially in the hands of a famously corrupt government, is going to help Pakistan stave off terror, especially when said government seems more than willing to capitulate to the militants they're supposed to be using that money to save the world from. Since 2001, Pakistan has been a country in decline. We suffer a suicide-bombing rate that surpasses Iraq's. The billions of dollars we have received have not made Pakistan safer, they haven't made our neighbors safer, and they've done nothing in the way of eradicating terror. Instead, we now have our own version of the Taliban busy blowing up trade routes and flogging young girls.
The Taliban and their ilk, on the other hand, are able to seat themselves in towns and villages across Pakistan without much difficulty largely because they do not come empty-handed. In a country that has a literacy rate of around 30 percent, the Islamists set up madrassas and educate local children for free. In districts where government hospitals are not fit for animals, they set up medical camps--in fact, they've been doing medical relief work since the 2005 earthquake hit Northern Pakistan. Where there is no electricity, because the local government officials have placed their friends and relatives in charge of local electrical plants, the Islamists bring generators. In short, they fill a vacuum that the state, through political negligence and gross graft, has created.
Pakistan has failed for many reasons but one of them is that Pakistan spends about 2.6% of GDP on education. That level is about half the average for a developing nation. Instead, Pakistan outsourced its educational system to clerics funded by the Saudi state and wealthy Gulf Arabs importing the Wahhibism that now threatens to topple the state. Until the Pakistani elite demonstrate that they do indeed get it, we should not bail them out. Pakistan is a sunk cost and it is a mistake to throw good money down an sinkhole.