Aid to Pakistan

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy has a piece up regarding the changes to US-Pakistani relations that may be coming out of this week's events.  Rogin is specifically discussing the debate in Congress over cutting military assistance to Pakistan.  Clearly this discussion has a long way to go, and the article indicates that significant divisions are emerging in both houses of Congress over what the appropriate response is. 

More below…

First, I think there are legitimate concerns here regarding the exact role that the Pakistani government and/or ISI played in hiding bin Laden–it's a pretty big deal.  That said, there is also a whole decade's worth of work that also needs to be evaluated and weighed against this particular event.  I mean it's not like Pakistan's duplicitous behavior is anything new.  This Frontline documentary from a few years ago gets into the discussion of Pakistan's role in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the region, and it seems perfectly clear that to those civilian and military officials who are interviewed on the subject that Pakistan was playing both sides.  So "if" is not so much the question here as is "how much?"  

I think the latter question is far more important.  It's not a big surprise that two wars and thousands of American casualties would eventually start to chafe the American public.  The extent to which American would stick it out in the region was, and still is, highly uncertain (although it is arguably becoming clearer) and Pakistani officials are simply responding to the incentives that they are presented with.  A long-standing rivalry with India gives them plenty of reason to divert funding from fighting insurgents to strengthening their own military position.  Their tenuous relationship with the tribal groups in Waziristan makes the central government and military understandably resistant to seriously crack down on a group that could become a huge thorn in their side once American soldiers, drones, and cash leave the area (case in point).  Furthermore, if the idea is to bolster their influence in Afghanistan for the purposes of enhancing their regional power bloc, Pakistani authorities probably don't want to pick a serious fight with the tribal elements in Waziristan as it seems that these groups have been an important bridge in facilitating Pakistani influence/interference in Afghan politics.   

I think in evaluating America's relationship with Pakistan, and to what extent maintaining this relationship in the future will be beneficial to us, US policymakers need to develop a much better understanding of the incentives faced by their government and intelligence agencies.  Actively sheltering bin Laden–or, at the very least, acquiescing to his presence–is a decent bargaining chip for Pakistani authorities in their relationship with the aforementioned tribal elements.  They may be able to obtain guarantees that these tribal groups will be less disruptive within Pakistani territory.  But having him located so close to a major military institution also suggests that the authorities are better able to keep an eye on him–Somebody probably knew he was there, after all.  Should promises be broken, Pakistani authorities are then better positioned to take bin Laden out themselves, or give him up to the Americans.  

Granted, this is wild speculation on my part, but if we believe that someone within the Pakistani government knew that bin Laden was there, I think it's important to explore what was to be had by hiding him.  I wouldn't consider myself an expert on Pakistan by any stretch, but as I understand that country's political environment, nobody in the Pakistani government or intelligence services are exactly comfortable with their relationships with groups like the Taliban or the tribal groups in Waziristan.  Such groups would seem to pose a fairly significant threat to Pakistan's domestic stability and the ability of the current regime to maintain any semblance of control.  To put it differently, I don't get the sense that there's much ideological affinity between Pakistani authorities and the non-state actors with whom they are doing business.  

So to get back to the original point–will cutting aid make a difference?  Probably, but is it a difference that we'd like?  Will cuts in aid to Pakistan simply strengthen the hand of Tribal groups relative to the central government?  Is a Pakistan that is giving us 50%, 40%, or even 30% of their cooperation better for the United States than a Pakistan that is giving us nothing at all?  It's clear that in moving forward, there is still much for the US to deal with, and it's possible that the jobs of American military and intelligence officials will be made easier if they have some level of cooperation from their counterparts in the region, which may be made difficult by the immediate severing of aid.  

So what other options are there?  Are there any feasible means of enhancing the extent to which Pakistani authorities comply with American wishes?  I seriously doubt Americans have any desire whatsoever to help consolidate Pakistani control over their own territory by engaging in another long war in the mountainous border regions along the Afghan border.  And there's little possibility that America will make any serious commitment to side with Pakistan in the event of a conflict with India.


Michael Flynn

About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

3 Replies to “Aid to Pakistan”

  1. Good points all round. I do wonder whether, at least at this point, there’s little hope that the US would get 20% cooperation out of Pakistan anyway though. The civilian government is widely viewed as just barely holding on, and while bin Laden wasn’t exactly popular with the average Pakistani, neither is the US. (The large number of innocent civilians the US has killed there may have something to do with that.)

  2. You’re probably right–and this is where it would be nice to be a fly on the wall of some back office in Washington, as I suspect that picking a very public fight with the Pakistani government is probably the best way to help them right now. I’m curious just how much some of the back-channel networks between intelligence officials are disrupted by this sort of spat. In the short term though, I think you’re correct that even 20% might be a bit much, but perhaps in the long run relations will be repaired.

  3. Yeah, I’d love to know what’s being said off the record.
    You’re probably right about relations being repaired in the long run. But I do wonder whether this is going to end up with the US tightening its ties to India and China stepping in as Pakistan’s new primary sponsor.

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