Speaking to reporters at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh on September 27, 2009, President Barack Obama declared the world’s interest in Pakistan’s success. The US$1.5 billion a year Kerry-Lugar Aid bill reflects this desire to see Pakistan emerge successful and stable despite raging insurgency in the northwest. However, even a cursory consideration of the strings attached to this aid helps understanding the real spirit behind the bill.
No doubt, it is an attempt to bolster civilian rule by allocating more funds for health, education and greater accountability of funds thus spent. But the bill also clearly seeks to clip the wings of Pakistan’s mighty security establishment, still viewed with great scepticism as far its alleged role in Afghanistan is concerned. The US believes the Pakistan Army and its affiliated institutions constitute the biggest hurdle in the way of US-NATO objectives of achieving peace in Afghanistan.
The repeated insinuations of the presence of Taliban shura in Quetta and the demands from within the US intelligence establishment to chase them in Balochistan, including subjecting suspected targets to drone attacks, must also be seen in this context.
The entire clause 2 of the bill seems to have been authored with this objective. Under this, for instance, the Secretary of State will have to certify to the appropriate congressional committees that “the Government of Pakistan during the preceding fiscal year has demonstrated a sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups, consistent with the purposes of assistance described in section 201, including taking into account the extent to which the Government of Pakistan has made progress on matters such as: (a) Ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighbouring countries; (b) Preventing al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, from operating in the territory of Pakistan, including carrying out cross-border attacks into neighbouring countries, closing terrorist camps in the Fata, dismantling terrorist bases of operations in other parts of the country, including Quetta and Muridke, and taking action when provided with intelligence about high-level terrorist targets; and (c) Strengthening counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws”.
What is most interesting is the conditionality that “the security forces of Pakistan [are] not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan”
These conditions become more understandable, and thus more damning, if one were to peep into what the US-NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, thinks of the Pakistani security apparatus: “Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan…whereby major Afghan insurgent groups are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI. In the August 30 assessment that McChrystal put before the Obama administration he alleges that the Afghan Taliban’s safe havens (in FATA and Quetta) provide vital command and control elements. Pakistan is crucial to the militant groups’ recruitment and re-armament.”
McChrystal certainly did not draw his conclusions in isolation. The movers of the Kerry-Lugar bill were not oblivious to what the US military and intelligence community, as well as the Af-Pak team led by Richard Holbrooke, think of the ground situation.
Anthony H Cordesman, the Arleigh A Burke Chair in Strategy at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and a national security analyst for ABC News, wrote the following in his article “The Matrix of Afghanistan: The Data Needed to Support Shape, Clear, Hold, and Build”:
“Al Qaeda and Afghan insurgent groups, increasingly mixed with Pakistani Deobandis and ‘Taliban’, have established major sanctuaries and operational centres in the FATA and Balochi areas of Pakistan…these critical shortfalls in reporting have been compounded by the fact that elements of the Pakistani military and ISI have continued to support Al Qaeda and Afghan Pashtun insurgents in both FATA and especially in Balochistan (The Omar-led Taliban operates freely in the Quetta area).”
In other articles and speeches, Cordesman has expressed more or less similar views on Pakistan, thereby making it amply clear that Gen McChrystal, Richard Holbrooke and key senators such as John Kerry coordinated their positions before agreeing on tripling aid to Pakistan. Their unmistakable focus on the Pakistan military establishment denotes a pattern that began emerging shortly before the departure of General Pervez Musharraf; the July 28, 2008 hasty notification to place the ISI under civilian control and the civilian government’s decision to send the ISI chief to India in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks underscored that desire. Please note that both those decisions had to be reversed.
The conditions laid down in the Kerry-Lugar Bill reflect the US desire to rein in what it considers the source of tension and violence on Pakistan’s eastern and western borders: the military establishment. Adjusting itself to the new ground realities, the military establishment is likely to react to these conditions with discomfort, more so because the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, appears to be pretty much reconciled with the situation. If discussions with his close aides are any indication, Kayani understands the need for a stable Pakistan, which he believes is also vital for success in Afghanistan.
Much of the army high command also understands that the US plans to maintain its presence in the region, even if its troops exit Afghanistan a few years down the road. The military is also reconciled with the increasing drone attacks inside the Pakistani tribal areas because it knows membership of the international coalition imposes certain obligations on Pakistan.
The establishment, nevertheless, also remains seized with the compulsions the country’s geo-strategy puts on it: dozens of tribes divided across the Durand Line, to whom insurgents such as Haqqani, Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar belong, and which would constitute a big challenge if the army were to go after them in the ‘American way’, which is would amount to antagonising them for the long haul. This a government already constrained on several fronts can ill-afford.
The reaction of the defence establishment will also determine the course and level of future military cooperation because if these conditions are viewed as “coercion”, this might prompt elements within the civil-military establishment to stonewall the aid and obstruct military cooperation.
The utility of the annual aid, of which far less than 50 percent would effectively land in Pakistan, is undisputed but the US administration needs to take into account Pakistan’s geo-strategic compulsions as well. That will be crucial for any effective and whole-hearted crackdown in Waziristan. If the Pakistani security forces do manage to disrupt and neutralise militant networks including those of Haqqani and Hekmatyar which have been the main supporters of the vicious Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), this would create space not only for Pakistan but for the international community to assert itself vis-à-vis obscurantist forces which don’t promise development but only destruction and ignorance