The General in Question

Indian Express, March 28, 2007

Pakistan’s military regime headed by General Pervez Musharraf remains a close ally of the United States and the US remains unwilling to criticise Musharraf out of fear of losing his cooperation. When Musharraf fired the chief justice, prompting massive demonstrations, the US state department’s comments called for “restraint on all sides”. The department spokesman insisted that Musharraf was “acting in the best interests of Pakistan and the Pakistani people”.

There is a pattern in US-Pakistan relations. For sixty years, they have gone through cycles of massive aid, followed by threats of sanctions and then application of sanctions.

Pakistan has been an ally of the United States during the cold war, in the war of resistance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and currently in the global war against terror. Each period of close US-Pakistan ties began with great hopes and ended up in tremendous disappointment for both sides.

The reasons are not difficult to identify. During each period of close ties, the US depended on an army general to deliver on a specific laundry list of expectations. The general in question sought US economic and military assistance, which prolonged his rule and improved Pakistan’s position in its military competition with the much larger neighbour, India.

Close relations between Pakistan and the United States are in the interest of both nations. But the relationship between the two countries must go beyond the exchange of aid and policy concessions that has characterised their interaction thus far.

Currently, the Bush administration seems desirous of continuing its reliance on General Musharraf, assuming that increased aid would somehow increase American leverage with a weakening military regime in Pakistan.

Congress, on the other hand, seems to be contemplating restrictions on aid and the prospect of sanctions. Neither approach is likely to serve even the short-term purpose of securing Pakistan’s cooperation in the global war against terrorism.

Soon after the fall of East Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971, Air Marshal Nur Khan — a war hero and former Pakistan air force chief — told an American diplomat that Pakistan had suffered because of its elite was “addicted to aid”.

US Congressman Gary Ackerman, chairman of the Middle East and South Asia subcommittee of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, echoed a similar view when he observed at a recent hearing, “There doesn’t seem to be any problem in Pakistan that can’t be cured with a little more US assistance.”

Actual and budgeted amounts of US aid for Pakistan during the period 2001-2008 total $5.174 billion. It is estimated that an additional $80-100 million is given each month in coalition support funds — a total of $4.75 billion until August 2006. There are no publicly available estimates for covert transfers of funds to Pakistan’s army and intelligence services.

Most of the American aid money has gone towards Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Economic Support Fund (ESF). Very little of it has flowed in ways that are visible to the Pakistani people as altering their daily lives.

For comparison, actual and budgeted USAID figures for 2001-2007 reflect $1.2 billion in FMF, $1.9 billion in ESF, $111.7 million for Child Survival and Health and a token $64 million for democracy promotion. The allocation for Child Survival and Health amounts to less than a dollar per person, given the size of Pakistan’s population.

The United States is viewed by most Pakistanis as being firmly behind army rule in their country. The three periods of significant flow of US aid to Pakistan have all coincided with military rule in Pakistan.

According to figures provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) between 1954 and 2002, the US provided a total of $12.6 billion in economic and military aid to Pakistan. Of these $9.19 billion were given during 24 years of military rule while only $3.4 billion were provided to civilian regimes covering 19 years.

On average, US aid to Pakistan amounted to $382.9 million for each year of military rule compared with only $178.9 per annum under civilian leadership for the period until 2002. The largesse towards the Musharraf regime almost doubles the average figure of annual aid under military rule to $760 million per year for each year of military rule.

Pakistan and the United States would be better served by a policy of nuanced engagement, in which US officials frankly share their concerns with Pakistan’s rulers and go beyond them to engage Pakistan’s people. It would be far better than the current policy of portraying one individual (General Musharraf) and one institution (the Pakistan army) as America’s best bet.