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Friday, October 21, 2011

The US-Pakistan Conundrum

A conundrum is a paradoxical, insoluble or a difficult problem, a dilemma. The relationship that the US has had with Pakistan for sixty years now fits that description perfectly like a T. When the arch-enemy, the Indian Government, paradoxically said on October 20 that the US and Pakistan must heal their rift, it spoke volumes of how much that relationship has deteriorated. That also reminded one that the wheel had come a full circle since the mid 1950s. Today, there is talk of the US sending its soldiers inside Pakistan to take the fight into the den of the terrorists. Ms. Clinton has openly said in Kabul that it would happen if needed. She has backed-up her threat by amassing troops across the border in Afghanistan. In Pakistan itself, she said, "you cannot keep snakes in your backyard and expect they will only bite the neighbours". She has also demanded that Pakistan take action “not [in] months and years, but days and weeks", thus setting a deadline which has hitherto not been the case. In turn, Gen. Kayani threatens the US with nuclear weapons and warns the US that it should think ten times before making any such decision. For his part, the Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar warns the US of 'Pakistani patience with the US running out' ! Whether these are the usual Pakistani bluster to appear brave before the masses or not will be known shortly.

Leading think-tanks and strategic analysts in the US have asked their President to freeze aid to Pakistan and to recognize the fact that the obstacle to peace in the region is indeed Pakistan. The continuing and intensifying war of words between the two countries mean only one thing. A flurry of meetings in the last one year between military and political head honchos of both the countries has been unable to narrow, let alone seal, the rift. On the other hand, the rift has only widened further this year due to incidents such as Raymond Davis, Osama bin Laden, revelation of identities of CIA station chiefs in Pakistan, assassination of Rabbani, Kabul embassy attack, Wardak Chinook attack, proof of collusion between the ISI and Haqqani, tipping off the Taliban engaged in bomb-making activities after receiving intelligence from the US etc. Even a very indulgent US - indulgent towards Pakistan, that is - has been forced to take a serious note of these developments. Why should there be such a downturn in their relationship ? After all, the US military and economic aid to Pakistan since the 1950s is mind-boggling. Let us look at the quantum of this aid to realize what we are talking about.

Pakistan’s sole obsession from Aug. 14, 1947 has been India. With this in mind, Pakistan approached the US for arms support as early as October, 1947, but the Truman administration already weighed down by developments in Europe and Korea could not accede to the request. In May 1950 during the state visit by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to the US, the request was revived. In the late 40s and during the 50s, it was the expedience of preventing the scourge of communism from spreading that prompted the Baghdad Pact (later to become SEATO in c. 1954) and CENTO (signed in c. 1955)to be formulated. Pakistan was a member of both and also had a special "Mutual Defence Assistance Agreement" with the Eisenhower administration in the US in 1954. It was, inter alia, to "preserve and maintain the integrity of Pakistan" and agreed to take "appropriate action, including the use of armed forces, as may be mutually agreed upon . . . in order to assist the Government of Pakistan at its request.". While the US was led to believe that that clause was needed with Communism knocking at the doors of Pakistan from Sinkiang (Xinjiang) in the East and a weak and troubled Afghanistan in the West, Pakistan's calculus was to use this friendship in its fight against India. The US ambassador to Pakistan, James Langley, said in c. 1957, “The present military program is a hoax, the hoax being that it is related to the Soviet threat”. As India feared, the arms were indeed used against India and there was no single occassion to use them against the Communists. Similarly, Pakistan never helped the US in its anti-Communism drive. When Gen. McArthur demanded a brigade of Pakistani troops to be deployed in Korea under the US command after the Armistice was signed there, Pakistan cleverly avoided that.

India deeply resented this arrangement and the US spurned India’s justified concerns through subterfuge and diplomatese. Gen. Ayub Khan wanted to completely equip the existing five-and-a-half Divisions of the Pakistani Army with modern US weapons and looked up to a largesse from the US for the same. He also wanted to add more strength by recruiting an additional 56000 soldiers, comprising of an additional Infantry division, a new para Brigade, and conversion of the Independent Armoured Brigade into a Division. During the period between c. 1954 and 1965, the US completely equipped the five-and-a-half divisions of Pakistani Army besides gifting it with six squadrons of fighter aircraft, twelve ships to the Pakistani Navy, modernization of Karachi and Chittagong ports, and technical support and training for the Pakistani armed forces. In the 60s, the US gifted Pakistan with the then state-of-the-art M-47/M-48 Patton tanks, F-104 Starfighters, B-57 bombers, and F-86 Sabre fighters (about a hundred and later augmented by another 70 received through West Germany over a token US objection and flown in via Iran), long-distance radars, helicopters, frigates and the submarine Ghazi. Emboldened, Pakistan immediately attacked India in c. 1965. Thirty four years later, the same Pakistani-US scenario played all over again in Kargil, when arms that were supplied to Pakistan under the garb of fighting terror on Pakistan’s western front were used against India instead.

The same US-Pakistan supply-demand scenario re-appeared after 9/11 when the US entered into a new defence relationship with Pakistan by designating that country as a ‘Major Non-NATO Ally’ (MNNA) in c. 2004. Under this rubric, it then supplied arms to Pakistan ostensibly to fight the Taliban/Al Qaeda terrorists who were operating out of mud houses and caves in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This was so even in circa 2008 by which time the US-Pakistan co-operation in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) steam had run out and the US was attacking inside Pakistan at will. Only this time, most of the kind of arms supplied were not usable against these terrorists. These were items like 250 Armour piercing TOW 2A Anti-tank missiles, Excalibur Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs), eight Aerostat radars, six AN-TPS77 surveillance radar, 5600 military radio sets, 500 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, 200 AIM-9M Sidewinder missiles, 36 F-16 Block 52s, mid-life upgrade to 34 existing F-16 A/Bs to C/D block 50/52, 8 P-3C maritime reconnaissance aircraft, mid-life upgrade to existing P-3 fleet, modernization of the Shahbaz Airbase (Jacobabad), 26 Bell 412 helicopters, 39 T-37 military trainer jets, 150 submarine/surface/air launched Harpoon Block II missiles, six Phalanx Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS) for the Navy, five refurbished SH-2I Super Seasprite maritime helicopters etc. The US is also to provide Pakistan with three additional P-3 aircraft that will be configured with the E-2C HAWKEYE airborne early warning electronics suite. Later, in c. 2009, the US complained that its P-3C and Harpoon missiles have been converted for attacking India. Since the start of Afghan operations in c. 2002, the US had supplied other arms like 115 155mm Self-propelled M109A5 howitzers, 20 AH-1 Cobra Attack helicopters, upgrades to existing older versions of AH-1 Cobras, 6 C-130Hs, transfer of 8 Perry-class guided missile Frigates upgraded with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability, five fast patrol boats, 450 vehicles for Frontier Corps, hundreds of NVGs, thousands of protective vests, 12 Shadow drones, Harris high frequency communication sets, and undisclosed special weapons. In c. 2010, it gave Pakistan 18 new F-16 aircraft which the US Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jeffry Glenn said “would give the Pakistan Air Force greatly expanded capabilities in its fight against ‘radical elements’ in the border region.” The US also delivered 1,000 MK-82 500-pound bombs to Pakistan which were later outfitted with 700 GBU-12 and 300 GBU-10 Paveway laser-guided bomb kits built by Lockheed and Raytheon, allowing the country’s air force a better targeting of the weapons. In addition, the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme had been revived after c. 2002, and significant number of officers from Pakistan Army have attended these programmes. “We must continue to reassure Pakistan that as it combats the terrorist threat, it is not exposing itself to increased risk along its eastern border,” said Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Michele Flournoy while explaining why the United States needed to strengthen Islamabad’s conventional defence systems as well. “Although extremist attacks have led to the repositioning of substantial Pakistani forces, Pakistan’s strategic concerns about India remain pre-eminent”. The import of these statements was revealed by an exposed cable by the WikiLeaks wherein the US Ambassador in Pakistan, Ms. Anne W Patterson justified another USD 1.5 Billion to Pakistan to provide for its ‘national defense’ against the ‘threat from India’. In October 2010, the US decided to grant USD 2 Billion worth of arms to Pakistan, spread over a five year period.

The economic aid is equally mind-boggling. Even at the official level, the US-Pakistan relationship is contingent upon the massive aid that the Pakistanis have received ever since Eisenhower decided to establish a close relationship with that country. In the period between circa 1954 and 2002, the US had provided Pakistan with overt aid amounting to USD 12.6 Billion. In the period after 9/11, between circa 2002 and 2007, the US aid was over 9 Billion USD (USD 4.586 billion as reimbursement for assistance to Op Enduring Freedom (launched Oct. 7, 2001) and USD 4.422 Billion as economic and military assistance). The Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act (or PEACE Act, 2009 or Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement Act or also known as Enhanced Partnership Act 2009), assured USD 1.5 Billion of economic aid every year for five years. All these are in addition to the Direct Military Aid from the Pentagon which is on top of the equipment that Pakistan receives through normal foreign military sales (FMS) overseen by the State Department. Those sales vary year to year but generally total around $300 million annually. A special counterinsurgency fund approved by Congress earlier in c. 2009 gave the Pentagon the authorisation to speedily deliver military equipment to the Pakistan Army. In addition, Pakistan gets reimbursed annually USD 1.6 Billion for the logistical and military support it provides to the US (the Coalition Support Fund). The US also offers Pakistan annually another aid of USD 700 million to fight Al Qaeda and Taliban on its soil (the Counter Insurgency Capability Fund). It later emerged that all these funds were misused by the Government of Pakistan. Besides these two funding options, the US offers a series of other funds: Foreign Military Financing (FMF), International Military Education and Training (IMET), International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, Non-proliferation Anti-Terrorism, De-mining & Related. The US uses the FMF to maintain close contacts with the Pakistani military and as a ‘foundation for bilateral security relationship’. After 26/11, the US decided to increase its FMF assistance to Pakistan to USD 400 Million a year for five more years. This was expected to demonstrate the US commitment to Pakistan and affirm its reliability as a partner. This was also expected to address, among other security needs, its “growing conventional disadvantage vis-à-vis India,” in order to secure its cooperation in the “war on terror.” ‘ Pakistan also owes the various lending organizations directly controlled by the US such as IMF, IBRD, ADB etc. over 20 Billion US Dollars. Overall, by 2006, Pakistan’s foreign debts had declined from US$ 47.8 Billion to US$ 30.3 Billion, solely due to US waivers and other interventions. Only in c. 2009, did the Americans attach stringent conditionalities on how these funds were to be spent by Pakistan. One of the conditions was to make sure that the funds were not squandered or diverted to affect the “balance of power in the region”. In any case, the total US overt aid to Pakistan in c. 2010 amounted to well over USD 4.5 Billion.The quantum of the covert aid is unknown.

Apart from military and economic aid, the political and diplomatic support given by the US to Pakistan has been phenomenal. The US took a hostile stand against India in the J&K issue in the United Nations. Later, the US extended a similar support to Pakistan's policies with respect to Afghanistan after the 1989 Geneva Accord. The US also turned a blind eye to Pakistan's overt and covert support to jihadi terrorists against India. In fact, the US even helped Pakistani terrorism against India in the Punjab when its Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) helped these terrorists. The US has also baled out Pakistan from tight spots it brought upon itself in pursuit of its truculent and obstreperous hostility with India, such as in Kargil or Op. Parakram or the 1993 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, for example. Above all these, the US allowed Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons and their delivery platforms through China and North Korea and allowed Pakistani scientists and engineers to shop for critical dual-use components all over Europe and the US, by turning a blind eye and even lying to its own Congress much against accumulated intelligence. This single act, more than anything else, has been a monumental folly of the US Administrations. Ms. Clinton's reference yesterday in Islamabad to 'snakes in the backyard', while true for Pakistan, is also therefore true for the US because the very same Pakistan that it nurtured with tactical brilliance and strategic stupidity is now threatening the US with nuclear attacks !

No other nation has given so much aid to Pakistan keeping its head bob over the swirling waters without drowning, for six decades now. Not even their extremely wealthy ummah brethren, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The 'taller-than-the-tallest mountain, sweeter-than-the-sweetest-honey and deeper-than-the-deepest-ocean all weather friend' China does not dispense with hard cash and helps Pakistan only on a project-by-project basis and when that would be beneficial to it also. And, yet, Pakistan has been singularly ungrateful to the US. It was petulant when the US decided to offer a moderate amount of military aid to India after the Chinese aggression in c. 1962. It abused the US when the US decided to cut-off military aid to Pakistan [and India too] in c. 1965 after war broke out between the two countries following Pakistani aggression. The mobs attacked the US consulates in Karachi and Lahore as a result of state orchestrated campaign against the perceived US betrayal. The US Embassy in Islamabad was burned down in November 1979 on a mere rumour of US forces occupying Makkah even as Gen. Zia-ul-Haq deliberately delayed rushing any assistance to the trapped Americans inside. He also accused the Americans themselves by saying, "according to some international radio transmissions, the Americans had inspired the attack" !

A discussion of Pakistan is utterly incomplete without talking about India because of the equation that Pakistan had unsuccessfully sought to make with its 'motherland' after the partition and the paranoia about India that the Pakistani establishment has successfully created in the minds of Pakistanis and until recently in Western minds as well. That obsession with India alone can explain the 'ungratefulness' of the whole nation of Pakistan to the US after receiving so much aid and support spread over six decades. The US, after its WW II success, has followed the 'with us or against us' policy ruthlessly. It has also always acted according to the inputs of the UK in matters pertaining to the Indian subcontinent assuming that the British knew the best about this region. A major reason for that was Sir Olaf Kirkpatrick Caroe who was the Governor of NWFP and later the last foreign secretary of the British Raj. He was very hostile to the Congress government in NWFP and reportedly organized the opposition to Nehru when he visited there and ensured NWFP’s joining with Pakistan. Olaf Caroe told the Americans in the 1950s that the operations in Mesopotamia (Iraq) in WW I and in Iran in WW II were made possible from bases in Imperial India and with the independence of India he suggested replacing Imperial India with Pakistan. The British really expected India to fragment and so needed a stable country to thwart the southward expansion of communism and protect the oilfields of the Middle East. Francis Tucker, the last General Officer-Commanding of the British Indian Eastern Command, believed that the creation “of a new Muslim power supported by the science of Britain” would “place Islam between Russian Communism and Hindustan.” Hinduism was thought too weak because of its “superstition and formalism” and therefore an easy prey to a "philosophy such as Communism”. It was therefore deemed necessary by the British to place “Islam between Russian Communism and Hindustan”. They also needed a fuelling/transit point for flights to Far East. The British also had little faith that Indian leaders will accept the British hegemony after Independence whereas a Pakistan created with the goodwill of the British, will remain grateful to them. They also wanted to protect the ‘wells of power’ as Sir Olaf Caroe called the discovery of oil in the Middle East. Pakistan was touted as the most geostrategically important nation for these purposes.

Thus, the Great Game was continued by the USA which promptly co-opted a more than willing Pakistan into various defence treaties by c. 1955. India, which refused to be drawn into superpower politics and wished to remain non-aligned with either power block, was alarmed by the axis of Pakistan and the USA and sought to restore the balance by seeking and getting help from the USSR even though it neither subscribed to Communism nor it joined the Soviet-bloc of countries. India's non-alignment was characterized as 'immoral' by Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles of the Eisenhower administration. This perception continued throughout the Cold War and was accentuated by India's counter moves to court the Soviet Union to balance the deep nexus between the US and Pakistan. Also, Nehru’s attempts at forging third world solidarity and his unmasked revulsion of the United States added fuel to the American (f)ire. Nehru declared in c. 1960, “The future destiny of the world cannot be decided by two or three great powers. We stand looking at the crest of tremendous changes in the world. We are not mere onlookers there. We are actors in this drama and we propose to be actors in it in our own way”. In addition to all these factors, two more important factors helped shape the US policies in the region: cultural and religious. The Indians were characterized as 'effeminate Hindus' while the Pakistanis were thought of as belonging to 'martial race' and fiercely passionate about their religion.

One can easily see therefore that the alliance between Pakistan and the US was flawed right from the beginning because there was never a convergence of fundamental strategic interest between the two nations; it was based on a faded Imperial power's spurious visions for itself; it was transactional because the exigencies of situations demanded that and when these exigencies disappeared the US-Pakistan relationship also quickly fell apart only to be revived all over again when the next situation arose; Pakistan always wanted the US-Pakistan relationship to be directed against India as a zero-sum game which a superpower could not accede to against a large democracy and a powerful country like India.

If only the US would do two things now, Pakistan would immediately put its relationship with the US back on the rail. They are, accord primacy to Pakistan in evolving a solution to the Afghanistan issue accepting it unquestioningly, and curtail Indian involvement in Afghanistan drastically, nil if possible.

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