The South Asia Channel

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

By Timothy D. Hoyt The Pakistani Army, according to reports last week, has written a strong “non-paper” to Pakistan’s civilian leadership regarding unacceptable elements in the new Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB), which will provide $1.5 billion in economic assistance annually to Pakistan with some conditions regarding accountability. The military was joined, perhaps unsurprisingly, by the political ...

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By Timothy D. Hoyt

The Pakistani Army, according to reports last week, has written a strong “non-paper” to Pakistan’s civilian leadership regarding unacceptable elements in the new Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB), which will provide $1.5 billion in economic assistance annually to Pakistan with some conditions regarding accountability. The military was joined, perhaps unsurprisingly, by the political opposition — Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League — in condemning terms that were described as “insulting and unacceptable.” Anonymous U.S. sources responded by saying that we have to “understand Pakistan’s sensitivities,” and U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson has been quoted as saying that some of the conditions in the bill are “a big mistake.”

The Pakistan Amy’s corps commanders and leadership expressed concern, according to Pakistani reports, over the bill’s “clauses about the country’s nuclear program, suggestions of Pakistan’s support for cross-border militancy and civilian government’s role in military promotions and appointments.” These are certainly important issues. They encompass the three key elements of Pakistani national security policy — which is and has been utterly dominated by the Army since Pakistan’s independence in 1947. They also represent genuine concerns for both the U.S. and the international community. Pakistan’s appalling record on proliferation is well known: Pakistani nuclear secrets have been transferred to Iran, North Korea, and Libya, and possibly other states as well.

And the use of paramilitaries, proxy forces, and terrorists to carry out foreign policy dates to independence and the First Kashmir War of 1947. Pakistan’s long history of support for militant groups includes providing sanctuary for the Quetta shura (the Afghan Taliban leadership), the Haqqani network, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, all of whom are actively engaged in killing American and coalition forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere, in addition to India-focused groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Finally, the Pakistani officer corps is deeply politicized, has ruled the country for over half of its existence, has never allowed an elected head of state to serve out a full term, and has contributed extensively to the country’s economic dysfunction, endemic corruption, eroding civil society, and weak political traditions. Reducing the role of the Army in politics appears to be a mutual goal — Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani shows no interest in re-inserting himself formally in the political system. Nevertheless, for an Army that traditionally sees itself as not only the protector of the nation, but as the actual embodiment of the nation (and therefore above all other institutions), accepting a bill that might constrain its political interference in the future may seem intolerable.

In addition, Section 205 of the Kerry-Lugar bill requires all direct cash payments for security assistance or non-assistance to be made directly to civilian political leadership, which can then be held accountable for how those funds are spent. This includes the much-criticized Coalition Support Funds, which have been provided in the past with minimal monitoring on either the U.S. or Pakistani side. According to recent Pakistani reports, the Army was stunned to find that billions of dollars provided through CSF had not gone to counterinsurgency or counterterrorist efforts. The Army claims it was denied access to those funds — a claim which is quite disingenuous, since it has been revealed by retired Army generals that many of those resources went to acquiring equipment to defend against India. In reality, the Pakistani Army simply chose to apply those funds to the theater of higher perceived priority and greater bureaucratic and institutional preference. The fact that no one on the U.S. side has publicly challenged these contradictory claims indicates the level of complacency, or perhaps just exhaustion, in the relationship.

Kerry-Lugar makes Pakistan the recipient of $1.5 billion a year in economic aid — putting Pakistan just slightly behind Egypt, and a bit behind Israel, in terms of government-to-government assistance. Add in the existing aid packages, which include programs for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and the Coalition Support Funds, and Pakistan certainly passes Egypt, and may even surpass Israel to become the #1 recipient of U.S. aid. This is hardly negligible — and a Pakistan which has verged on nightmarish uncertainty at least twice in the past two years (the political crisis of 2007, and the economic and political crisis of 2008) really cannot afford to turn this offer down.

Moreover, the Army leadership knows quite well that money is fungible, and that U.S. economic assistance frees up money in the domestic economy that can then be used for military purposes if necessary. And yet Army leadership still launches a series of attacks, complaining about U.S. interference and misunderstanding, and implicitly accuses the civilian government of endangering national security (and, possibly, suggesting a military willingness to intervene if it doesn’t get its way).

(Read on)

This is politics as usual in Pakistan, on both the domestic and international fronts, unfortunately. Domestically, this is an opportunity for the opposition to berate the government, which plays to the broad suspicion of U.S. intentions and motives among the Pakistani population. In addition, the Army is trying to make the boundaries of its relationship with civilian politicians clear. National security is not an area where the Army will tolerate much interference, either by Pakistani politicians or by external actors.

The Army’s hostile response reflects tensions in Pakistan’s national security policy, which continues to focus on India. Rightly or wrongly, Pakistan’s Army does not see the current internal threat as its critical priority — the perpetrators of terrorist acts inside Pakistan are referred to as “miscreants,” rather than insurgents or terrorists, for example, even after they stormed Pakistani Army headquarters in Rawalpindi last weekend.

Longstanding links between militant groups and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISI) further complicate assessments of the internal threat. Criminal charges against Hafez Saeed, leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out last year’s Mumbai attack, were dropped on Saturday. The perpetrators of Saturday’s attack on Pakistani Army headquarters in Rawalpindi are apparently linked to Jaish-e-Mohammed. Both groups were established by ISI, and have links to al Qaeda — and both have been useful tools for Pakistan, providing hundreds of fighters to operate in Jammu and Kashmir over the past two decades. Both groups were, in fact, banned by former Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf in January 2002 after an attack on Indian Parliament the previous month that nearly led to regional war.

The problem for Pakistan is that it knows the Kerry-Lugar restrictions represent legitimate U.S. concerns, but those concerns and the restrictions contained in the bill are not in the interests of the Pakistani Army and other elites. Support for terrorism by elements of the Pakistani security forces (active duty or retired) remains a problem in Pakistan. So does nuclear proliferation — although Pakistan has taken great steps to provide greater security for its nuclear arsenal, it has also released nuclear black market mastermind A.Q. Khan from house arrest. Monitoring of aid is also not unreasonable, given the Army’s unsupportable claims that much of the previous U.S. assistance was “lost.”

The key fear, and the reason for the Army’s hostile reaction, is that on one occasion in the past, the United States actually abided by the details of Congressional legislation. In 1990, the U.S. terminated assistance to Pakistan after it violated the provisions of the Pressler Amendment, which required the U.S. president to certify that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device. Pakistani elites portray the halting of aid in 1990 as a total surprise and a great act of betrayal.

In fact, the Pressler Amendment had already been in effect for a number of years, and Pakistani leadership (both military and civilian after 1988) knew the conditions under which aid would be terminated. Those conditions had been the subject of regular conversations between the U.S. and Pakistani leadership in the late 1980s. The fact that Pakistan pressed its nuclear development to the point that an American president could not ignore it indicates a pressing national interest strong enough to override the potential consequences, a critical failure in judgment and management of the U.S. relationship, or (more probably) both. It also reflected a changing geopolitical environment in which Pakistani and U.S. interests diverged, and common interests became less compelling.

So it is not surprising that Pakistan’s Army protests bitterly against what it sees as unwanted interference in its sphere of responsibility. The question is whether the Army will scuttle the bill or insist on changes, rather than become the leading recipient of American military and economic assistance. Congress will pass the bill, and almost certainly in its current format — rolling back the objectionable provisions seems highly unlikely in the current U.S. political climate. Pakistani military delegations will complain about a “trust deficit” and a “transactional relationship,” and show very real and compelling PowerPoint presentations demonstrating their losses in the war on terror. After a time, the U.S. has a tendency to simply stop arguing if the issue is not perceived as immediate and critical. This diplomatic attrition, at which Pakistan’s Army excels and relies, is a trademark of Pakistan’s foreign policy. When we respond by saying “it was a mistake,” we simply reinforce decades of Pakistani experience, and ensure that we will see similar behavior in the future.

At the end of the day, then, rather than reject the remarkably generous provision of aid, Pakistan’s military will seek a work-around in practice — making loud pronouncements about their commitment to the terms of the bill, but maintaining their questionable activities at a sufficiently ambiguous level to allow U.S. authorities to continue providing the assistance despite ongoing evidence of a lack of full compliance. The mutual interests of the U.S. and Pakistan still coincide much more than they diverge, and as a result Pakistan will accept the bill with loud and bitter complaints. It’s business as usual, and the United States would be foolish to give these protests any serious attention. They are, in the words of Macbeth, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Timothy D. Hoyt is a professor of strategy and policy and co-chair of the Indian Ocean Regional Studies Group at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Naval War College, the Department of Defense, or any other U.S. government agency.

Rick Gershon/Getty Images and AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

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