What’s Cooking? America First (Background)

By: | Muhammad Ali Azlan |

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A continuation of the Hudson Institute Policy papers,

‘In March 2009, then-President Barack Obama defined his top priority as being to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the Al-Qaeda infrastructure in Pakistan, which posed an imminent and significant threat to the United States and its allies. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was the lead element in the fight. Drone strikes intensified dramatically. In May 2011 Osama bin Laden was tracked down by the CIA, and a Navy SEAL team delivered justice’.

In the last decade, the U.S. has not been able to count on consistent Pakistani support in the war against Al-Qaeda. Today the Al-Qaeda infrastructure in Pakistan is much reduced but not destroyed. Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is still in Pakistan, producing propaganda that calls for attacks on Americans. U.S. intelligence officials reportedly believe that Bin Laden’s son, Hamza, is also active in Pakistan.

Like several other U.S. presidents since the 1980s, former President Barack Obama saw Pakistan as a potentially useful ally in achieving ‘limited U.S. goals’ in South Asia. The administration hoped that with the right kind of incentives – economic and military – Pakistan could be induced to change those policies that ran counter to ‘U.S. interests’.

‘These undesirable policies included Pakistan’s support for terrorists targeting Afghanistan and India and continued expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal’.

Large amounts of economic and military aid have not induced Pakistan to end covert support for the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, or the myriad India-focused terrorist groups, most notably Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which Pakistan describes as “freedom fighters.”

The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 (also referred to as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill) offered $1.5 billion in civilian aid for five years with a possibility of extension for another five years. It was presented as the end of “transactional” relations with Pakistan’s military and the beginning of a ‘deeper partnership’ with its people and their elected representatives.

The package of civilian aid offered to Pakistan came with strings designed to ‘gently nudge’ Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment to back away from support to militant groups, whether they operated in Afghanistan or India. Positive inducements to the military were offered in the form of aid – materiel and cash, including reimbursements. Public praise was accompanied by private pressure to alter Pakistan’s policies.

Washington hoped that civilian aid (through the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill) and support to a civilian government would help strengthen democratic trends in the country and allow the civilians to exert greater control over the military and intelligence services. That hope was not fulfilled. The aid package, however, was not designed in such a way to make a significant impact on the economy and health or education systems. Pakistan’s civilian governments — both the PPP government (2008-2013) and the PML/N government (2013-present) — have proved unable to push back sufficiently against the existing national security paradigm, and policies framed by Pakistan’s security establishment have endured.

In November 2011, U.S.-led NATO forces carried out a counterterrorism attack on a location close to the Pakistan border. Pakistani troops used artillery and heavy machine guns to attack the U.S. helicopters, based on rules of engagement issued by the Pakistani military command following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. U.S. aircraft engaged the Pakistani border outpost with counter fire that resulted in the deaths of 28 Pakistani soldiers. In retaliation, Pakistan closed the GLOCs for NATO forces. Until January 2013, the U.S relied on the more expensive northern route.

The Obama administration erred in relying on a combination of personal ties with Pakistani military commanders and offers of economic and military assistance as instruments for change in Pakistan’s policies.

American interests in the region are not served by Pakistan’s strategic thinking, which is fueled by the belief that India seeks to weaken and then dismantle Pakistan. Nor are American interests fully compatible with Pakistan’s desire to steer events in Afghanistan and counter any Indian role there. Continued U.S. assistance, offered in the hope of a gradual change in Pakistan’s terrorism policies, only provides Pakistan an economic cushion and better quality military equipment to persist with those policies.

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