Pete Souza

The Resumption of Business as Usual Between Pakistan and the U.S.

The bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. is one of the most important and contentious in the world. Illustrating its complexity, Pakistan is expected to shortly announce that it is reopening Afghan supply lines through its border, which were closed following the NATO raid last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Not surprisingly, the newly brokered deal – apparently reached following Pakistani President Zardari’s invitation to the NATO summit this weekend in Chicago – will come at a price. Pakistan is likely to require $1 billion from the U.S. in return for the access, plus an additional $1 billion in payment for its participation in battling Islamic militants within Pakistan, which has resulted in heavy tolls on the Pakistani military and civilians. The deal will allow U.S. supplies to enter and leave Afghanistan into 2014 when it is expected that the U.S. military mission there will substantially conclude.

Before the border was closed by Islamabad, about 100 fuel tankers and several hundred supply trucks had been using the border crossing to resupply U.S. and NATO forces. The closure of the border essentially stranded hundreds of NATO supply trucks within Pakistan and led to an increase in the cost of fuel that had to be shipped into Afghanistan from alternative routes.

After the border closure, U.S. supplies had to be ferried by helicopter, or from an alternative route bypassing Pakistan, which was significantly more expensive compared to the overland route, traveling through Pakistan from Karachi. Although these alternative supply networks were essential, they were clearly unsustainably expensive – particularly given the pending U.S. military drawdown this summer.

So it appears that common sense has prevailed. Islamabad made its point, and although it never did receive the formal apology it was looking for from Washington, it was seen to have officially stood up to the Americans. But Mr. Zardari and the military are smart enough to know that maintaining heightened bilateral tension for too long did not serve them well, given Pakistan’s dependence on American military aid. Pakistan may have done some soul searching about whether it should continue accepting military aid from the U.S. Clearly, it has arrived at its answer. The U.S. needs to do the same.

Pakistan has received more than $20 billion in U.S. economic and military aid since 2001. Although $7.5 billion in additional aid was promised by the Obama administration between 2010 and 2014, only $180 million of the first tranche of $1.5 billion was delivered as of the end of 2010. The reason is that disbursement of the aid included specific stipulations that it not be used to promote Pakistan’s nuclear program, assist terrorists, or contribute to cross-border military actions. The fact that such stipulations had to be included says a great deal about the lack of basic trust in the relationship and the history of how such aid had been misused in the past. Although other aid has been disbursed through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. government has had difficulty identifying corruption-free avenues through which to deliver the aid through Pakistan’s government.

The Obama administration identified seven high profile ‘signature’ development projects that would stand as a long-term testament to the beneficial impact of U.S. aid, and help strengthen the standing of the civilian government among the Pakistani people. However, none of these projects have reached a successful conclusion, the result of a combination of inefficiency and ineptitude at various levels of the Pakistani government. According to the U.S. Office of the Inspector General, only approximately half of the aid that has been delivered to Pakistan for this purpose has had the intended impact. Whether the objective was building a dam or constructing schools, a combination of bribery, kickbacks, corruption, and collusion prevented successful disbursement of the development aid.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, up to 70 percent of the funds given to the Pakistani military to support activities along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border have been misspent, and much has apparently been diverted to bolster Pakistan’s arsenal against India. The U.S. government has accused the Pakistanis of utilizing just enough of the money allocated to fighting the Taliban to keep it at bay, ensuring a continuation of U.S. aid. This raises serious question about whether economic or military aid should even be continued. If the U.S. Congress were honest with itself, the answer would clearly have to be ‘no.’

If Pakistan weren’t of such geostrategic importance and did not have nuclear weapons, Congress would have terminated the aid long ago. This is the heart of the dilemma — how to maintain integrity in the relationship at a time of budget cutbacks while maintaining continuity of purpose. Pakistan has actively worked against U.S. policies and interests. How can the U.S. strike a balance between being true to itself and its interests, while at the same time drawing a line in the sand with Pakistan, saying the continuation of these unacceptable forms of behavior will no longer be tolerated — as they have been for years?

Given a) the fact that Osama bin Laden was running Al Qaeda within earshot of Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point in Abbottabad, b) that so much of the aid the U.S. has given the Pakistanis has either been squandered, misused or stolen, and c) that the Pakistani government and military have clearly been pursuing their own agenda for their own benefit — which has been contrary to U.S. interests — it would be irresponsible and hypocritical of the U.S. Congress to vote to continue delivering vast quantities of aid to the Pakistanis unless they demonstrate that they will change their ways.

The resumption of access through Pakistani territory for the purpose of ferrying supplies to Afghanistan, along with the associated costs, appears to send the message that business, as usual, has resumed. A realist would have said that, given the situation in Afghanistan, there could be little doubt that in time, this would be the case. However, now that the Obama administration has committed the U.S. to maintaining a presence in Afghanistan until at least 2024, the Pakistanis know that the flow of funds is likely to continue in return for their assistance for at least another dozen years. Although not a perfect solution, in the end, this is preferable to the alternative of diminished U.S. influence in the region, and that is undoubtedly why the Obama administration has agreed to proceed on this basis.