What if the U.S. Cuts off Military Aid to Pakistan?

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Has U.S. military aid to Pakistan over the past 50 years helped that country in any desirable way? Or is U.S. aid partly the cause of Pakistan’s dire security and development situation? Has aid to the military, and the ill-advised redistribution of that aid to other, less savory agents, fundamentally crippled governance and social and economic growth in Pakistan? What might happen if military cut is cut or at least steadily decreased over the course of some years?

Lawrence Wright provokes just those questions in the  piece he’s published online at the New Yorker,  He covers the history of U.S aid to the Pakistani military since 1954 and lays out for readers the circuitous, twisted road the Pakistani military– the nuclear capable military that has never won a war– has pursued since after the 2001 World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.  He canvases the ways in which the Pakistani military has tried to work with both its U.S. aid donors and the Islamist militant organizations that have weaned on the milk of the military establishment, that now seem bent on the overthrow of the weak “apostate” civilian in power in Islamabad.  He shows that not only is the military the strongest institution in Pakistan, it is also the center of economic activity. The Pakistani military is well-ensconced in every aspect of Pakistani life, and in large measure it has reached out in this wide-ranging way due to U.S. aid, and American tax payer funded dollars.

Nevertheless, Wright wonders what might happen if military aid was cut. What might happen?

“Eliminating, or sharply reducing, military aid to Pakistan would have consequences, but they may not be the ones we fear. Diminishing the power of the military class would open up more room for civilian rule. Many Pakistanis are in favor of less U.S. aid; their slogan is “trade not aid.” In particular, Pakistani businessmen have long sought U.S. tax breaks for their textiles, which American manufacturers have resisted. Such a move would empower the civilian middle class. India would no doubt welcome a reduction in military aid to Pakistan, and the U.S. could use this as leverage to pressure India to allow the Kashmiris to vote on their future, which would very likely be a vote for independence. These two actions might do far more to enhance Pakistan’s stability, and to insure its friendship, than the billions of dollars that America now pays like a ransom.” (Read more here.)

Wright’s argument is compelling, even if it’s not politically feasible.  Risk averse U.S. senators are not likely to cut off military aid; doing so would cripple the war effort in Pakistan. For, nearly every article of armor and ammunition and particle of military rationing in Afghanistan first cuts through Pakistan.  Indeed to signal a credible threat to the Pakistani military, but still bargain and work with that body, the Obama administration is trying high-flying diplomacy: Senator John Kerry has just landed in Karachi to force the point that the Pakistani military must cut its ties with militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the broader coalition of militant organizations that call themselves the Tehrik-e-Taliban.

Given Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani’s intransigent refusal to move against insurgent elements in Pakistan, Senator Kerry’s gamble is not likely to pay off.  Both agents at the bargaining table- the U.S and Pakistan- have strong cards, but only one shares a border with Afghanistan.  It’s hardly surprising that politics and policy will continue largely as the status quo.

Still, one can hardly be blamed for holding the light that something like Lawrence Wrights argument to cut off aid to Pakistan’s military might bear the fruits that he lays out.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.

This article was first published on Pakistan Foreign Policy Blogs here

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