Cutting Aid to Pakistan More Than Justified

The United States is taking a tougher stance towards Pakistan. It was announced this weekend that the U.S. will withhold $800 million in aid to Pakistan, or between one-third and 40% of U.S. military aid to the country. This funding would have gone towards reimbursing Pakistan for deploying 100,000 troops in the tribal and border-region, training assistance and military hardware. The cut in aid is, as Elise Labott called it, “a calculated risk” meant to pressure Pakistan into cooperating with the effort to end the insurgency and steady the region. Pakistan has never been a staunch ally in the war in Afghanistan. In fact, it has received a great deal of aid for the United States despite acting counter to those goals. Now, the U.S. is applying pressure on them to get in line.

Tensions between the U.S. and its “ally” became further strained in May with the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden in Abottabad on the outskirts of Islamabad. Amidst the somewhat troubling level of celebration over the death of the al-Qaeda leader in the United States rose concerns about how he could have been carrying on as well as he was so close to Pakistani capital. Troubling as rumors were that Pakistan lacked the intelligence or capacity to capture or kill the primary target of the war on terror, other rumors and accusations that Pakistani officials knew where he was and chose not to act are both more likely and more disturbing. Suspicions that Pakistan provides support and a safe haven to the insurgency and its leaders such as bin Laden and Mullah Omar became more pronounced. That Pakistan proceeded to arrest CIA informants involved with the raid and shut down an American program to train Pakistani troops to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal and border areas did not help matters.

Pakistan’s relations towards Afghanistan in recent months have done nothing to help. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called out Pakistan for shooting 470 rockets into Afghanistan since the beginning of June. At the time of that article’s printing, Karzai claimed that the strikes killed 36 people, approximately one-third of which were children, and sent countless people fleeing their homes. If, as is being alleged, Pakistan conducted these attacks to support the Taliban’s operation to occupy border provinces, it “would be one of the most blatant recent examples of Pakistani support [for the insurgency] and bodes ill for the testy relationship among the three countries [Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the U.S.].” In response to Afghanistan’s tougher stance, Pakistan denied intentionally firing into Afghan territory in the first place. Considering Pakistan’s connection to the insurgency, it is hard to take Pakistan at its word. Further poisoning their relationship are rumors, whether real or imagined, that Pakistan had a hand in the infamous attack on the International Hotel in Kabul. If Pakistan has been a bad partner for the United States, it is clear they have been little better to their neighbors.

The decision to cut aid, in light of these developments, appears sound. Pakistan’s lack of cooperation more than justifies reconsidering the amount of military aid given – its status as a true ally in the war should be severely questioned. For the United States to continue supporting a country that is aiding its enemies is utterly absurd. The insurgency is resilient enough – the U.S. does not need to give it guns and bullets to kill its men and the men of its allies. A long-standing lenience towards Pakistan under both the Bush and Obama administrations has clearly done nothing to address its blatantly duplicitous nature. It is only appropriate that the United States conditions its aid based on honest and open cooperation around common goals.

As justified as the U.S is in this action, it is important that a balance is struck and the precise amount of pressure is applied. Despite mutual frustrations and Pakistani frustration, it is clear to Reza Aslan that the two countries desperately need each other. Pakistan provides the U.S. and NATO with much needed access routes for both lethal and non-lethal supplies while Pakistan certainly needs the U.S. to keep the many radical groups currently festering within its borders from bringing their government to ruins much like it did in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Aslan’s argument that the U.S. risks allowing the insurgency to grow stronger in Pakistan without Islamabad’s help seems a little far-fetched considering Pakistan does as least as much to protect the insurgency as it does to stop it. What is more important is that the U.S. would benefit greatly if Pakistan stopped supporting the insurgency and sincerely confronted it. The United States’ punishment of Pakistan needs to be appropriately measured to end its reliance on the insurgency and move it to supporting the coalition.

Despite the hazard involved, the status quo clearly is not working. If this move could ultimately encourage Pakistan to get its act together or strain the Taliban it will be a major success. There is little doubt that Pakistan must be encouraged to choose between supporting the insurgency or working to limit its violence and disruptiveness – and to make the right choice. I can only hope this “calculated risk” pays off: the only way to limit the fighting power of the insurgency is to deny it sanctuary and support from Pakistan.

Adam Cohen is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.