A critical look into the US decision to pull back 800,000,000 USD in annual funding to Pakistan. This leaves roughly 1.2 billion USD in US aid to Pakistan per year.
This is a most precarious situation. If Pakistan is not already a failed state, it is very close to becoming one. The recent mob violence in Karachi, which claimed nearly a hundred lives this past weekend, is but one small testament. The greater testaments are the undeniable links between the ISI and Al Qaeda, between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban, and the fact that much of “Pakistan’s land” is not actually controlled, and in some cases not even monitored, by the Pakistani government—these include the most violent of territories in the north and west of the country. Construct upon this backdrop a party of Pakistani people who wish to bring the United States into closer and more harmonious relations, and you have the context for a civil war.
I had a professor of political science and counterterrorism tell me once that he has never seen a nation as close to civil war as Pakistan is now, and that is not a light or arbitrary statement. Much of Pakistan is not controlled by the Pakistani government. Much of Karachi is not even controlled by the government. People who need schools and hospitals regularly go without them, not even aware that there is some central government whose theoretical obligation is to provide those services. There are those in government who want to put more funding in these tribal areas, then there are those who would ignore them. There are those who would embrace the United States, then there are those who would push the US away. There is, almost unanimously, a feeling that United States is too heavily involved and must “back off”, and Pakistanis can unite behind this call. Yet behind this veil of unity there is division. The cutting of US funding brings all of these questions and more to the fore, and the United States would do well to reexamine them all in turn and to consider what they really mean.
We cannot expect that the military and the ISI will not be involved with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They helped create the Taliban, surely as the United States did after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Yet their ties have remained friendly, while ours have evolved into a rivalry. Their cause, often, is one and the same. Meanwhile, there are ISI officers whose second job is that of a trainer at an Al Qaeda camp. We cannot possibly criticize them for “sympathizing” or “being soft” with Al Qaeda when they themselves help train Al Qaeda militants—it does not even begin to make sense. The United States has attempted to thrust a foreign ideology upon Pakistan, and it has been repulsed time and time again.
The United States and Pakistan are enemies operating under the veneer of an alliance. This alliance exists for a reason—it has been maintained, at the great cost of our own US statesmen and at the enormous cost of Pakistan’s President Zardari, so that Pakistan does not devolve into civil war and does not become a failed state. It is critical that this relationship continues, for all of the reasons listed above, and for one more: nuclear weapons.
The closest things to a failed nuclear state that the world currently has are the old satellite states of the Soviet Union. They have seen more Highly Enriched Uranium and Petroleum stolen from their warehouses than any other location on earth. They have the weakest guards for their nuclear storehouses—and this applies to Russia itself as well—oftentimes employing simple security guards at slightly more than minimum wage. Pakistan’s premiere nuclear scientists have sold blueprints in the past to a large number of states, Iran among them. It is the belief of many such scientists that nuclear weapons knowledge belongs to the Dar-al-Islam, the concept of an Islamic world united on some level by culture, religion, and tradition. As such, nuclear weapons are not the property of Pakistan, but the property of Islam.
It was pressure from the United States and other nations which eventually put a halt to this pattern and forced a number of nuclear scientists to resign after selling plans to other nations. Should this occur again, and the United States find itself out of any favor in Pakistan and without the benefit of supplying large quantities of cash on an annual basis, the United States will not have the leverage necessary to demand that this stops. It is not a latent threat—Pakistan’s nuclear program is still very alive and the belief that such knowledge belongs to the entire Islamic world is a common one.
Should Pakistan fall into the full-fledged status of a failed state, its nuclear arms will be up for grabs. That is not just to say that its scientists, programs, resources, and abilities will be up for sale—but to say that the weapons themselves will be just as vulnerable. It is a ridiculous thing to imagine that someone would ever use a fully armed nuclear warhead in this modern age, when they are so devastating and can kill so many. But ridiculous things have occurred before, and only a fool dismisses this as impossible.
The threat of nuclear arms is only one part of the greater equation, into which government-mob, tribal-government, intertribal, and military/ISI-civilian government tensions are constantly tested to near breaking. The United States, like it or not, has played and will continue to play a role in this volatile situation. It will be responsible for the actions it chooses to take—such as withdrawing 800 million USD in annual aid—and answerable to the consequences of those actions. The United States and Pakistan have never been “true” allies, as surely as the United States has never counted Saudi Arabia among its real and more reliable friends. But the very idea of an alliance is something worth maintaining—it is something strong in a country that faces weakness.
When we consider aid to Pakistan, it is usually in terms of military aid for a military alliance. Unfortunately, the military and ISI and among the factions in Pakistani society most hateful toward the United States, and their grip on power cannot bring Pakistan up from the status of a dangerous and failed state, no matter how hard those factions may try. In a series of polls conducted by third-party agencies and documented by terrorism and counterterrorism policy experts (See Gottileb’s Debating Terrorism and Counterterrorism, and also TerrorFreeTomorrow.org) researchers found several things that the people of Pakistan said would make them see the US as a favorable ally: More humanitarian aid, for schools and hospitals, was foremost among those criteria. Many parts of Pakistan receive no aid from their government. If the US intends to curry Pakistan as an ally, the US must first realize that Pakistan, as we think of it, does not exist in many tribal areas. These areas, dangerous in the context of a failed state and requiring only relatively simple investments that do not begin to reach the two billion dollar mark, demand our attention and our aid. They will make much greater use of our tax dollars than the ISI or the military, to be sure—although for stability’s sake we must also continue to help fund the military.
There were other demands from the people of Pakistan: Free trade policies between the US and Pakistan which would allow their economy to grow, easier access to United States visas, and a shift in policy away from Israel and in favor of Palestine. Undeniably, these three changes are in fact changes that our government should make. The hypocritical trade policies of the United States have dire consequences for poorer nations like Pakistan, and bringing those policies to justice in favor of real free trade would go a very long way in US-Pakistani relations (although it would raise an outcry from other nations, who face a similar dilemma when it comes to US relations). Reversing our policy in regards to Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine is an unavoidable necessity which would not only revolutionize our relations with Pakistan, but with all of the Dar-al Islam, the entire Middle Eastern world, Indonesia, and the Maghreb. Easier access to visas is a common complaint from many nations, but Pakistani people in particular face enormous challenges in obtaining visas.
In short, to prevent Pakistan from becoming (or remaining?) a failed state, and to play the best part we can in preventing civil war, we must appeal to the real Pakistan, which exists far outside of the government’s reach, while at the same time appealing to the government and continuing to fund the military. It may make us cringe and feel uneasy, as this alliance is not a “natural” alliance, and it seems clear to many that rivalry should exist between us. But if we are to prevent chaos, we must remain calm, and if we are to prevent war, we must act as if we are at peace. The people of Pakistan have their own interests which are openly divergent from the interests of US politicians and strategists, but for the greater interest and the long-term stability of the United States, of Pakistan, and in fact of the world, we must maintain this unnatural alliance even when it seems clear that open rivalry is the only option available.