Pakistan’s terrorist windfall

by Brahma Chellaney

Pakistan has long proven adept at diplomatically levering its weakness into strength. Now it is using the threat of its possible implosion to rake in record-level bilateral and multilateral aid.

Bountiful aid has been pouring in without any requirement that Pakistan address the root cause of its emergence as the epicenter of global terrorism — a jihad culture and military-created terrorist outfits and militias. Even though the scourge of Pakistani terrorism emanates not so much from the Islamist mullahs as from generals who reared the forces of jihad, rewards are being showered on the procreators of terrorism.

The Mumbai terrorist attacks, far from putting Islamabad in the international doghouse, have paradoxically helped open the floodgates of international aid, even if involuntarily. Between 1952 and 2008, Islamabad received over $73 billion as foreign aid, according to Pakistan’s Economic Survey.

But in the period since the November 2008 Mumbai strikes, the amount of aid pledged or delivered to Pakistan has totaled a staggering $23.3 billion. This figure excludes China’s unpublicized contributions but includes the International Monetary Fund’s $7.6-billion bailout package, for whose approval the head of U.S. military’s Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, unusually interceded with the IMF brass.

Just last week, Islamabad secured more than $5 billion in new aid at a donors conference — the first of its kind for Pakistan. At that conference, host Japan and America pledged $1 billion each, while the European Union promised $640 million, Saudi Arabia $700 million, and Iran and the United Arab Emirates $300 million each.

Add to this picture the largest-ever U.S. aid flow for Pakistan that has been unveiled by the Obama administration — $7.5 billion in civilian aid over five years ($1 billion of which was pledged in down payment at the donors conference in Tokyo), some $3 billion in direct military assistance, plus countless millions of dollars in reimbursements to the Pakistani military for battling jihadists, including those it still nurtures and shields.

Despite the glib talk that the new aid would not be open-ended but result-oriented, the Obama administration first announced major new rewards for Pakistan upfront, and then persuaded other bilateral donors to make large contributions, without defining any specific conditions to help create a more moderate Pakistan not wedded to terrorism.

The talk of “no blank checks” and “an audit trail” has proven little more than spin. Put simply, Islamabad is being allowed to reap a terrorist windfall. America’s proposed Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement (PEACE) Act, though, is likely to throw a few bones to those alarmed by the stepped-up assistance as deja vu. The U.S. House of Representatives’ version of this innocuously labeled bill seeks to set some metrics for the aid flow, but an opposing White House sees them as too stringent. The Senate version has not yet been unveiled.

By the time the bill is passed by both chambers, its focus will likely be on better accountability and on presidential certification of the Pakistani military’s assistance to help “root out al-Qaida and other violent extremists in Pakistan’s tribal regions” — the goal publicly identified by U.S. President Barack Obama.

In any event, if the benchmarks are not to the White House’s liking, Obama will largely ignore them the way his predecessor dismissed the congressionally imposed metrics for progress on Iraq — metrics that ultimately even Congress disregarded in the face of increased Iraqi violence. The point is that by doling out goodies upfront, Obama has undercut any attempt to get the Pakistani military to stop underwriting terrorist groups.

History actually is repeating itself with a vengeance. It was the multibillion-dollar aid packages during Ronald Reagan’s presidency that helped grease Pakistan’s descent into a jihadist dungeon. And the renewed U.S. munificence under George W. Bush only encouraged Pakistan to dig itself deeper into the dungeon.

Little surprise a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concludes that America, despite its more than $12.3 billion in aid to Pakistan since 9/11, has “not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA” (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).

The Obama policy rejects the Bush administration’s institution-building approach in Afghanistan as an attempt to create “some sort of Central Asian Valhalla.” Yet the new administration is seeking to pump billions of additional aid into an increasingly radicalized Pakistan to win hearts and minds there — a Valhalla even more distant. In fact, almost every Obama policy assumption in the publicly declared “AfPak” strategy has an Alice in Wonderland ring to it.

Take, for example, the decision to disburse $3 billion in military aid to Islamabad in the name of a “Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Fund.” The attempt to get the Pakistani military to focus on counterinsurgency misses the point that what the Obama administration calls insurgents remain prized proxies for the Pakistani generals.

Or take the Obama policy premise that the U.S. military “surge” can be used, Iraq-style, as a show of force to cut deals with the “good” terrorists, especially “moderate” Taliban. This surge-and-bribe assumption overlooks the fact that the Afghan militants, with cozy sanctuaries deep inside Pakistan, have more leeway than their Iraqi counterparts and thus cannot be under pressure to cut deals with the Americans.

Also, the new rewards being doled out upfront to the Pakistani military establishment disregard the reality that the Pakistani generals have little incentive to lend genuine cooperation at a time when Obama has barely disguised his Afghanistan-exit strategy. The generals and their surrogates — the Taliban — just need to patiently wait out the American exit to reclaim Afghanistan.

The U.S. policy approach is further compounded by Washington’s squint-eyed identification of terrorist safe havens only along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, despite terrorist sanctuaries deep inside the Pakistani heartland, as well as by its long-standing pampering of the Pakistani military.

Worse still, the Obama administration wants to regionally contain rather than defeat terrorism, as if the monster of terrorism can be deftly confined to the AfPak belt — a blinkered approach that promises to bring Indian security under added pressure.

Pakistan is not the only failing state in the world. A dysfunctional Somalia, for example, has become the base for increasingly daring piracy along the western rim of the Indian Ocean, seriously disrupting shipping in one of the world’s busiest maritime passages. But even as Somali pirates — with ties to Islamists — now hold 17 captured ships and some 260 hostages, the annual U.S. aid for Somalia is not equivalent to even one day’s aid for Pakistan that the Obama team has helped put together internationally.

The reason Pakistan can harvest tens of billions of dollars by playing the failing-state card is no different from what endeared it to U.S. policy since the 1950s or made it an “all-weather ally” of China. Pakistan remains too useful a pawn for external powers involved in this region. These powers thus are unlikely to let it fail, even as they play up the threat of implosion to bolster the Pakistani state.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.