Rescinding Aid to Pakistan
Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, multiple administrations have insisted upon recognizing Pakistan as a crucial ally in U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts. Yet 16 years later, the United States has very little to show for it.
Instead, Pakistan has continued to undermine U.S. interests in the region and around the world in almost every conceivable way.
The list of their failures is long. Osama bin Laden, for years the most hunted man in the world, was killed by U.S. Navy Seals almost right next door to the Pakistani military academy, and Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. airstrike on Pakistani soil in May of 2016. Since late last year, Pakistan has repeatedly refused to grant the U.S. access to a Haqqani network operative — one reportedly with information about U.S. hostages.
Pakistani support for the Taliban is enabling the expansion of the Islamic State and al Qaeda militants across Afghanistan. Moreover, Pakistan continues to bankroll insurgents across the region, even as it receives around $1 billion a year from U.S. taxpayers for supposedly combatting those same militants.
Meanwhile, Washington has forked over approximately $20 billion in military aid and equipment to Pakistan, and for what? Pakistan has cashed that American money to arm, fund, and protect the very same militants who have killed thousands of American soldiers, contractors, and civilians in Iraq.
In a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, former top Bush diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad called Pakistan’s actions a “perfidious and dangerous double game,” with the country “portray[ing] itself as a U.S. partner, yet support[ing] the Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network.”
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) summed up the situation thusly: “Billions of dollars have been spent, and far too little change has occurred in Pakistan. It seems like paying the mafia.”
This is particularly true when one considers how this aid has enriched the Pakistani military at the expense of the rest of the country. Pakistan’s powerful military plays a massive role in domestic affairs, where, in addition to military installments, they own hotels, shopping centers, shipping center, insurance companies, banks, farms, and an airline. According to Pakistani journalist Ayesha Siddiqa, the military is worth more than $20 billion.
It’s little wonder how the Pakistani military became so wealthy on America’s dime. A 2008 assessment from American officials in Islamabad revealed that as much as 70 percent of the $5.4 billion in U.S. assistance to Pakistan had been “misspent.”
Pakistan, for its part, continues to perpetuate the myth that it is “too dangerous to fail,” arguing that repercussions of cutting off aid could be severe.
In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, C. Christine Fair and Sumit Ganguly challenge these assumptions, particularly that Pakistan lacks the ability to rein in the various terrorist organizations operating within their borders.
This is nonsense, as the authors point out. Not only does the Pakistani military know these organizations inside and out, having spawned and organized many of them, it has previously shown its willingness to crush insurgents with efficiency. “There is no reason,” the authors argue, “to believe that Islamabad could not do so again were it so inclined.”
Furthermore, even if Pakistan fails to cooperate after a cutoff of aid, the U.S. has other, more drastic points of leverage it can utilize. Rescinding Pakistan’s designation as a “major non-NATO ally” would strip it of even more financial and military benefits, not to mention diplomatic prestige. Increased sanctions like those contemplated by the White House this summer are also an option.
For years, the U.S. has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars in a vain effort to gain cooperation. That naiveté—assuming Islamabad would act against its own perceived vital interests for billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars—has resulted in thwarted military endeavors and lost American lives. It is long past time for Washington elites to recognize the central role interests play in how other countries behave.
President Trump’s recent announcement that his administration will cut off $255 million in aid is a welcome start. Members of Congress are also engaging on this important issue: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has long supported the elimination of aid to duplicitous allies like Pakistan, has introduced a bill to do so.
The U.S. relationship with Pakistan must improve if it is going to be maintained. The United States can ill afford to send billions of dollars to a country which actively undermines our interests. Shrewd diplomacy should replace bribery.
In wrapping up his testimony before the Foreign Affairs Committee examining the U.S. policy toward Paskistan in 2016, former U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was asked if he believed the U.S. had been manipulated in its decades long relationship with Pakistan.
“To use an undiplomatic term,” he said, “we have been patsies.”
Rachel Bovard currently serves as Senior Director of Policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. She has more than a decade of policy experience in Washington and has served in both the House and Senate in various roles. She also served as director of policy services for The Heritage Foundation. The views expressed are the author's own.