By Sumit Ganguly
Even as President Obama gets ready to sign the Kerry-Lugar bill, legislation designed to give Pakistan $7.5 billion in aid over the next five years that is formally called the “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act,” outraged howls have emerged from a number of quarters in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Even those Pakistani political commentators not usually given to intemperate outbursts have joined in this shrill chorus of criticism of key provisions of the bill. But the loudest protests have come from the general headquarters of the Pakistan Army. Indeed, the New York Times reported that General Ashfaq Kiyani, the chief of the Pakistan Army, has expressed his profound misgivings about certain conditions embedded in the bill. The bulk of the criticisms deal with a handful of benchmarks that the Pakistani state is expected to meet, including that the Pakistan Army to desist from interfering in the political process, sever its support for various jihadi organizations, and not engage in renewed proliferation activities.
Despite these expressions of dismay and resentment, the provisions in Kerry-Lugar are really quite unexceptional and long overdue. For far too long, various U.S. administrations have uncritically accepted Pakistani promises to adhere to the law and the intent of American economic and military assistance. The subversion of U.S. goals and policies has a long lineage, harkening back to the days of the Eisenhower administration and the forging of the U.S.-Pakistan military nexus in 1954. Arms supplied under the aegis of this agreement designed to strengthen Pakistan’s resolve against communist expansion were turned against India in 1965. Subsequently, in the 1980s, during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, Gen. Zia ul-Haq’s military regime siphoned off much of the American assistance intended for the Afghan resistance. Most recently, a good deal of the $11 billion of counterterrorism funds that the two Bush administrations lavished on Pakistan was diverted toward acquiring weaponry best used in a war against India.
Given this backdrop of routine skullduggery on the part of the Pakistani military establishment, the benchmarks spelled out in the Kerry-Lugar bill are necessary. Contrary to much perfervid commentary both within Pakistan and even in the American press, none of these provisions are especially onerous, do not fundamentally infringe on Pakistan’s sovereignty, and have critical national security waivers which can be invoked if necessary. Instead the provisions seek to redress a long-standing imbalance within Pakistan; namely, the overweening prerogatives of the Pakistani military over the civilian government. Even during the brief periods of civilian rule, the military has not only zealously guarded its own privileges but has hobbled the functioning of civilian institutions, meddled in matters well beyond its purview, and even upended civilian regimes as it deemed necessary. To those ends, it has ensured that defense expenditures have not been subjected to any meaningful parliamentary scrutiny, sown discord within political parties, boosted preferred candidates, cultivated a range of jihadi organizations to pursue strategies of asymmetric warfare in Kashmir, and participated in proliferation networks.
Given this checkered past, it is hardly surprising that the military has taken such umbrage about provisions in the bill that seek to end their persistent propensity to undermine civilian regimes, end their dalliance with jihadi forces, and prevent the resurrection of proliferation rings.
The military’s intransigence notwithstanding, the Obama administration needs to stand its ground on the question of conditions. Without a firm adherence mechanism attached to the stated expectations of Kerry-Lugar, there is every likelihood that the security establishment will revert to form. Following pious expressions of commitment to the stated U.S. goals, the military will exploit every possible means to subvert them.
Apologists for the Pakistani military in the U.S. have already started to trot out their timeworn arguments against the imposition of any benchmarks. They contend that such benchmarks could undermine the limited cooperation that the military has provided the United States in reining in jihadi organizations and allowing the use of Pakistani territory to support the war in Afghanistan. They also contend that a provision that seeks to enhance civilian oversight of the military is too intrusive.
These arguments are superficially appealing but flawed. The military continues to hedge its ties to such vicious jihadi organizations as Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the latest political incarnation of Lashkar-e-Taiba) and shows little or no inclination to firmly suppress them. Admittedly, U.S. reliance on Pakistani supply routes to Afghanistan is not a trivial issue, but the U.S. pays Pakistan handsomely for the use of these supply chains and the Pakistani state, which is on financial life support — having just received an infusion of $11.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund — can ill afford to dispense with the rents that these earn. Finally, the provision of greater civilian control over the military is more anodyne that it appears: it simply seeks to strengthen the civilian leadership’s control of legitimate subjects such as the rules of promotion of senior military officers and to exercise oversight over military budgets and operational plans. Such scrutiny is routine in most democratic states and Pakistan’s pattern of civil-military relations has been the anomaly.
Diluting the monitoring provisions of the current bill would be tantamount to caving in to blackmail. Thanks to its feckless behavior over decades, the military has few viable external allies that it can rely on to readily replace American funding. Pakistan’s two regional allies, Saudi Arabia and China, are unlikely to step into the breach. The PRC, though a self-professed ‘all weather friend’ has expressed its misgivings about the military’s ties to radical Islamist groups. The Saudis, though hardly unsympathetic to the Pakistani military, are unlikely to promptly address the financial shortfall out of concern of alienating the United States.
Past American indulgence has enabled the Pakistani military to distort the country’s political and economic priorities, stultify the consolidation of democratic institutions, and provoke its far more powerful Western neighbor at will. The current bill correctly seeks to curb the behaviors that have caused much damage to the country, the region, and even the world. It is time to end their myopic propensities.
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