I returned from Pakistan late last night to see the news that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials made a pitch to Congress for an additional $400 million this year and $700 million for next year to help create a new Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund. Based on what I saw on my latest trip to Pakistan (for a mid-trip readout, see this article), the initial skeptical reactions among some members of Congress seems warranted, and Congress should ask tough questions about this request.
This new funding request was made as a response to the deteriorating security situation in the northwestern part of the country—a situation that has prompted senior U.S. officials to make a frenzy of statements about Pakistan. General David Petraeus said this week that the next two weeks are critical to Pakistan’s survival. This statement seems to echo remarks from one of his advisors, David Kilcullen, who said last month that Pakistan could collapse within six months.
These statements are overblown. Don’t get me wrong, the situation in Pakistan is difficult and there are very serious problems in the country, which I’ve visited frequently over the past year and a half. Terrorist attacks inside of Pakistan have quadrupled since 2006, according to the State Department’s most recent annual assessment of global terrorism released this week. Political instability and divisions between Pakistan’s political factions have impeded progress in addressing the country’s considerable economic and governance problems. The U.S. intelligence community has been raising red flags on Pakistan for several years now. Nearly two years ago, a July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate warned about the safe havens acquired by Al Qaeda elements in Pakistan, and since then there has been a great deal of media attention on the major security, political, and economic challenges in Pakistan.
But I have serious doubts that the Taliban are about to take over Pakistan and the collapse of the state is imminent, which is an impression one can easily get from listening to some of the U.S. government’s statements and articles in the media. Pakistan has a vibrant and vocal middle class that opposes the extremist fringes of the Taliban, and it has one of the largest militaries in the world. That by itself isn’t a guarantee against further instability, but Pakistan has some key assets to fight off the growing extremism that other countries do not have.
Simply putting more U.S. taxpayer dollars into proposed counterinsurgency training for the Pakistani military is an incomplete answer at best. There is a real risk that the Obama administration, in its latest proposal for Pakistan, is about to remake some of the mistakes the Bush administration made in Iraq and Afghanistan—overmilitarizing its policy to the detriment of focusing on broader issues of governance, economic development, and political and judicial reform issues.
A Pakistani economist at a dinner this past Monday in Karachi raised concerns about Pakistan’s bloated military budget and the security institution’s continued domination of Pakistan’s economy. At first glance, this new funding proposal by Secretary Gates seems to be very much in line with the old way of doing business with Pakistan—supporting the military without sufficient oversight mechanisms and without enough emphasis on how the U.S. program is going to enhance Pakistan’s civilian institutions, which must ultimately be capable of providing decent governance and economic opportunity.
There are also problems with this proposed funding for the training program. It seems to assume that the central problem is lack of capacity or equipment, rather than a motivation issue or unwillingness to work with the United States. Based on my discussions with top Pakistani officials, it was clear that key elements of the Pakistani security establishment simply just don’t have the same threat perceptions as the United States. More funding and training avoids addressing those differences in threat perceptions between the two countries.
Many Pakistani officials expressed severe reservations about the Obama administration’s “Af-Pak” strategy—in particular some raised the concern that increased military operations in Afghanistan could further undermine Pakistan’s internal stability. A few retired Pakistani generals discussed the challenges they had in getting their troops to fight against their own people. And incidents during the past year—including an incident last June when Pakistan’s Frontier Corps fired on Americans in a border incident described by Dexter Filkins in The New York Times last year—raise further questions of how easy it will be to get the United States and Pakistan on the same page when it comes to threat perceptions.
The situation in Pakistan is serious, and it has been serious for several years. But the U.S. Congress should take some time to critically analyze the Obama administration’s supplemental request for more military aid to Pakistan. Rather than simply handing over the requested funds, Congress should place the same certification requirements on the proposed counterinsurgency funds as it has done in language proposed in previous versions of the Kerry-Lugar aid bill. This legislation requires the Secretary of State to certify that the Pakistani military is:
- Making concerted efforts to prevent Al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups from operating in the territory of Pakistan.
- Making concerted efforts to prevent the Taliban from using the territory of Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to launch attacks within Afghanistan.
- Not materially interfering in the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.
As the Obama administration moves from strategy formulation to policy implementation in Pakistan, Congress must continue to ask tough questions. Our Pakistan strategy report released at the end of last year urges the United States to broaden and deepen its strategic relationship with Pakistan, support the military in ways that support good governance and economic development, promote a democratic transition, and be long term and proactive. Legislative efforts such as Kerry-Lugar are an important step forward toward these goals, but more specificity about governance objectives is necessary. Increased attention and funding for military efforts in Pakistan are necessary, but America should avoid making the same mistakes it has made in the country for decades in Pakistan.
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