July 10, 2011

Obama Chooses Fear Over Love In Pakistan

After weeks of rumors, private Congressional meetings with Pentagon officials and a failed Representative vote, William Daley finally confirmed that $800 million in military aid would be suspended from Pakistan’s pipeline. The White House’s chief of staff told ABC News on Sunday, "We'll hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give.”

Some U.S. lawmakers and analysts hailed the move as “the end of nice talk” with an “untrustworthy” partner. Yet no sooner had the ax fallen did the Pentagon attempt to cushion its blow.

"We remain committed to helping Pakistan build it's capabilities, but we have communicated to Pakistani officials on numerous occasions that we require certain support in order to provide certain assistance," the Pentagon said in a parallel statement. "Working together, allowing an appropriate presence for U.S. military personnel, providing necessary visas, and affording appropriate access are among the things that would allow us to effectively provide assistance.”

Non-military aid will continue to be delivered to Pakistan’s people.

Few, if any, Pakistanis will be fooled by political doublespeak though. They know how their government’s relationship works with Washington: carrots and sticks. While the cessation of military aid, roughly half the $2 billion allocated by the 2009 Kerry-Lugar bill, is billed as a tougher line, the Obama administration is still blowing hot and cold on Islamabad. This policy runs counter to the emerging theory of a new position.

So will Washington’s old threat produce new results? Withholding aid is sure to trigger debate within Pakistan’s government and military, and Islamabad’s demands may eventually weaken to a compromising level. The Pentagon says that aid is being withheld because Islamabad requested a reduced presence of U.S. military trainers and “other personnel.” This equipment includes radios, night-vision goggles and helicopter spare parts, “which cannot be set up, certified or used for training because Pakistan has denied visas to the American personnel needed to operate the equipment.”

"While the Pakistani military leadership tells us this is a temporary step, the reduced presence of our trainers and other personnel means we can't deliver the assistance that requires training and support to be effective," the Pentagon clarified.

Aside from blatantly false disinformation, propaganda generally attempts to hide its real message behind a plausible front. The Obama administration's explanation appears stuck in limbo; in blaming Pakistan for the shortage of U.S. trainers, countless demands are being thinly disguised as a relatively straightforward stipulation. Theoretically suspended aid will be put back on track as soon as Pakistan grants the trainers their visas. This theory bears no resemblance to reality though.

Given that the announced hangout over trainers has been singled out as justification, one can assume Pakistani aid has been suspended for a variety of these reasons - a psychological warhead of demands. First, U.S. trainers represent a much wider trend of resistance from Islamabad. The Pentagon is chafing under demands to halt drone launchings from inside Pakistan, along with limiting the off-grid spy network established by U.S. Special Forces and the CIA. These trainers aren’t setting up equipment with Pakistani troops but the "other personnel," those tracking al-Qaeda targets inside the country without the military’s knowledge.

Washington wants its entire grid approved by the government, and has privately threatened to circumvent Pakistan’s security forces if necessary.

The military cut also includes $300 million in reimbursement funds, which Pakistan is already owed from its war against a national and international militancy. The Pentagon claims that recent friction with Pakistan’s military has forced a review its funding, even though these funds are owed for past actions. Washington hopes to exploit domestic suspicions by targeting the army, a dangerous game considering the U.S. has funded Pakistan’s military to the point of local resentment.

The same game is also being played with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), for reasons that include the aforementioned spy ring and slain journalist Syed Shahzad Shahzad. Having worked with the ISI as well, Washington has no credibility to push reform in the agency.

While financial stress may produce modest changes in behavior, Islamabad is unlikely to approve an invasion of North Waziristan under U.S. pressure. Major General Athar Abbas, the Pakistani military spokesman, countered, "In the past, we have not been dependent on any external support for these operations, and they will continue.” Furthermore, the military is already launching an operation into the neighboring Kurram agency, where many of North Waziristan’s militants have fled over the last year. Stretched as Pakistan’s military is, $800 million doesn’t provide the incentive for simultaneous campaigns in two of the FATA’s roughest agencies. Similarly, a cut in military aid won’t jolt Pakistan to target Ayman al-Zawahiri or Mullah Omar, the heads of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Pentagon and CIA believe that both are hiding in Pakistan, and refuse to share intelligence out of fear that Islamabad will tip them off.

Although justifiable, all of Washington’s demands indicate an increasing gap with Pakistan. And as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta continues to hammer away North Waziristan, is the knowledge that Pakistan will resist being established as a pretext for unilateral operations?

What the White House, Congress and Pentagon expect from chastising Pakistan remains to be seen. Clearly Congress wants to look tough to the American people, as many oppose U.S.-Pakistani relationships and favor unilateral operations inside the country. Daley’s “taxpayer” reference was no coincidence. With the aftermath of Osama bin Laden allowing for ripe capitalization, the Pentagon has joined Congress’s posturing to maintain political support. However basing counterinsurgency on domestic political considerations is normally doomed to failure.

Militarized counterinsurgency that ignores foreign political considerations also runs a high risk of stalemate. Going down the reasons for withholding military aid, Washington’s every demand will unleash a new round of inflammation within Pakistan’s public. As a whole America’s domineering will be largely resisted; backlash is already hitting Pakistan’s media. General Abbas responded that the wave of U.S. media reports amounts to a "vilifying campaign."

President Barack Obama came into office promising a new relationship with the Pakistani people. Having failed to raise America’s popularity from George Bush’s disastrous support of Pervez Musharraf, the White House has given up on being loved. Machiavelli did recommend fear if forced to choose between one or the other, and perhaps Pakistanis have become indelibly hostile to the U.S. government. Then again, Washington has never sincerely put in the effort to be loved.

Lasting mutual interests and stability cannot be forged within a client relationship.


  1. Pakistan with get these monies in a couple of weeks in all likelihood. Smoke and mirrors as ever. The US and Pakistan need one another for their symbiotics to continue against AQ, the Taliban and a few others, including states. The public statements by both sides are worthless to my mind.

  2. Washington and Islamabad do need each other too much to break off their relationship, and the walkback is already in motion. Somehow the press managed to hype this development even higher than it already is. However new damage is being dealt inside Pakistan's public sphere. Washington is risking more than it stands to gain.

  3. D.C. does not have the only marbles in this game.
    China will gladly pick up the slack.
    Again they are looking at the short term, and not the long term.
    Money is not the cure all as long as drones are killing innocent people.

  4. The White House and Pentagon like to believe they understand long-term strategy, but so many decisions are shortsighted. And Washington is looking for trouble because Beijing knows its long-term strategy.