What Pakistan Needs
Cutting Aid Is the Wrong Move at the Wrong Time
By Robert B. Oakley and Joshua Yaphe: Washington Post, November 26, 2007; A15
The worst thing the United States could do now would be to cut back support for Pakistan.
Instability is on the horizon in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Gen. Pervez Musharraf's promise to hold free and fair elections is in doubt, and many are calling on the United States to reduce and redirect its assistance.
Experts in Washington have noted that a good deal of U.S. assistance to Pakistan's military has gone to high-end defenses directed at India; this makes them of little use against the insurgents the United States wants to target. Civil society activists have produced a litany of grievances that they believe could be addressed if the United States were to threaten withdrawal of its assistance as leverage for democratic change. These arguments are nothing new. Benazir Bhutto has for decades had friends in Congress championing her cause of a "truly democratic" Pakistan. Pro-India forces in Washington have also lobbied for years to reduce U.S. arms sales to Pakistan.
But the United States and Pakistan have a long history together, and many of these paths have been taken before. The most dramatic example came in 1990, when Congress passed the Pressler Amendment, aimed at cutting off many forms of assistance as long as Pakistan continued its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The effect was not what we intended. Pakistan perceived India as its strategic security concern, just as it does now, and no U.S. sanctions were going to change that. What the Pressler Amendment produced was not a subduing of the effort to acquire nuclear weapons but great resentment among Pakistani military and civilian leaders toward the United States.
For 10 years following the amendment's passage, Pakistani military leaders made almost no visits to the United States, which also meant they received no U.S. training or educational opportunities. To this day, when senior Pakistani military leaders come here, they speak well of America. Most have fond memories of the 1970s, when many of them took courses at Fort Leavenworth. But most mid- and low-level officers who visit arrive with negative attitudes toward America and are content to leave thinking the same way. The younger generations felt that the United States abandoned Pakistan in the 1990s.
That resentment is still felt. The United States has increasingly pushed for Pakistan's army to enter the tribal areas near its border with Afghanistan to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistani troops have been forced to fight their own countrymen, which they resent and for which they blame the United States and Musharraf. The United States should continue cooperating with Pakistan against al-Qaeda and other jihadis, but we need to be careful about pushing the army into conflicts in which it suffers high numbers of casualties and troops are forced to kill their own tribesmen.
We should also resist internal and international pressure to cut assistance to Pakistan's military. Despite our frustrations, we must keep in mind that Pakistan's military controls its nuclear capabilities and has always been a major force holding the country together. Instead of cutting aid, we should work to bring about discussions between the army and civilian political leaders on appointing a senior civilian to serve as interim president, replacing Musharraf. Given the strain the military has been under, senior military leaders may prefer this option to find a way out of the current situation. (Appointing a powerless interim prime minister and cabinet changes nothing.) An interim government could then prepare for truly free and fair elections and a return to the rule of law, with the state of emergency lifted and civil liberties restored.
This would be a difficult, time-consuming process. It will take years to restore security, stability and democracy to Pakistan. We should remain committed for the long haul.
Yesterday, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned from exile, apparently with the support of Saudi Arabia. This probably will mark the end of Musharraf's political career. As for Bhutto, she greatly compromised her legitimacy this summer by tying her tether to Musharraf's sinking ship. Sharif may be the future of Pakistan, an eventuality the United States must prepare for. He commands a strong following and, most important, has traditionally been strongly supported by the Pakistani army and intelligence services.
Pakistan's army will remain a major force uniting the country. Its cooperation is essential in the fight against al-Qaeda and to prevent cross-border insurgent activities in Afghanistan. Its efforts do not always meet our expectations. But it has been a long road rebuilding U.S.-Pakistan relations, and we cannot afford to damage them again at this sensitive moment.
Robert B. Oakley is a research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies. He served as ambassador to Pakistan from 1988 to 1991 and has held other positions at the National Security Council and State Department. Joshua Yaphe is a research assistant at the Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies.