Balance for peace

Terrorism cannot be eliminated within Pakistan by the US sending in billions of dollars in the form of military assistance. It cannot be eradicated by the US violating our sovereignty through drone strikes or cross-border raids from Afghanistan

While referring to the recently suspended security assistance to Pakistan, John Sullivan, US Deputy Secretary of State stated the following while addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week: ‘We may consider lifting the suspension when we see decisive and sustained actions to address our concerns, including targeting all terrorist groups operating within its territory, without distinction’. In line with President Trump’s first tweet of the New Year, the policy being pursued by the US echoes a clear ‘no more, do more’ pressure on Pakistan.

There has been much debate within and outside Pakistan on the US’ remarks on the fact that Pakistan grants safe haven to terrorists. Almost every major newspaper and media channel across the world has covered the story. There are a couple of points of clarification that must be made at the very outset. First, Pakistan and the US have engaged in a “strategic” partnership long before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan has been a recipient of US aid (both economic and military) since 1948. It is estimated that between 1948 and 2010, Pakistan received $40.4 billion in terms of economic aid and $21.3 billion in the form of military assistance. Second, as the attempts to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan reached their peak, the US began providing greater amounts of military assistance to Pakistan (greater in monetary terms alone and also in comparison to economic assistance being rendered). Third, following 9/11, particularly since 2002, the US further increased military assistance to Pakistan.

Why are these facts and figures so essential for understanding the US-Pakistan dynamic? For starters, they clarify that the Pakistani economy is in no way dependent on US aid. So the argument that Pakistan cannot survive without US assistance is not only deeply flawed but an outright misrepresentation of facts. Moreover, these figures demonstrate why these threats by the US, or the actual physical act of cutting off aid, have proven futile: they are based on an incorrect assumption.  On a second level, they offer insight into the US’ active contribution towards fostering the civil-military imbalance in Pakistan: an area rarely, if ever, discussed. Research illustrates that the largest amounts of military assistance have been given to Pakistan at two focal junctures: during the early 1980s under General Zia and since 2002 to General Musharraf. In other words, the US has actively and consistently not only supported military dictators in Pakistan but has provided them with the necessary means to unlawfully and forcefully reduce civilian space.

‘Everybody is worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it’

This is problematic for many reasons. Much like the Pakistan under military dictators, today’s Pakistan continues to witness major involvement of the military and security agencies in its domestic politics. While today’s Pakistan is perhaps a lot less tolerant of outright military takeovers, we still experience the effects of actions being carried out by those whom we have not chosen to elect into power. We in Pakistan blame the US for several reasons: drone strikes, spying, destabilising, etc. but what our civilian leadership must focus on at this time is renegotiating our relationship with the US.

The US is well known for propping up brutal dictatorships favourable to its agenda throughout the course of history. The world has seen much bloodshed and conflict stemming from US involvement and intervention in the affairs of many countries whether in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East or South East Asia. For the US to turn around to Pakistan and accuse us of granting a safe harbour to terrorists when the US itself has strengthened and financed an institution that uses many of these terrorists as “strategic assets” is a shameless and ignorant denial of their role in encouraging this duplicity. Indeed, Pakistan has a range of problems to address within its borders but for so long as the US continues to lend legitimacy to the Pakistani military over our civilian leadership, those challenges cannot be overcome. This blame game can continue endlessly but is in neither State’s interest for this dynamic to persist.

The only real beneficiary of US military assistance to Pakistan has been the already massive Pakistani military, which takes a lion’s share of the budget each financial year. This is the same institution that props up religious right-wing fanatics as “heroes” or “strategic assets”, never realizing that these are the very same chickens that come home to roost. It is these assets that have proliferated their dangerous and disturbing ideas across the country, backed by the very real threat of violence. If the US really wants to see change in Pakistan, the first step would be to stop blackmailing already faltering civilian institutions and instead focusing on enhancing civilian cooperation, be it through a bilateral or multilateral framework. The fact remains that the US needs Pakistan just as much as Pakistan needs the US: the US cannot prevent the growth of terrorist networks in the region without our support, and we cannot afford to become a target of sanctions or further attacks on our soil.

Terrorism cannot be eliminated within in Pakistan by the US sending in billions of dollars in the form of military assistance. It cannot be eradicated by the US violating our sovereignty through drone strikes or cross-border raids from Afghanistan. The US and Pakistan need to build a genuine strategic partnership for the sake of regional and global stability. This carrots and sticks approach of incentivising cooperation through resumption of military aid or cutting off aid at arbitrary whims has never worked and will never work. This is not the way forward. But honest dialogue is: dialogue that acknowledges the US’ role in strengthening the military against civilian institutions within Pakistan and attempting to rectify that dangerous imbalance which has brought both countries here today.

In the words of Naom Chomsky: “Everybody is worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it”. US military assistance to Pakistan has not been able to stop our schools and hospitals from being blown up, just as military operations in our northern areas have not been able to eliminate the threat of terrorism. Similarly, military assistance to Pakistan has not resulted in the US’ involvement in Afghanistan being successful. The lack of accountability and transparency in Pakistan is the culmination of decades of weakening civilian institutions. We must deal with the bad seed rather than occasionally deciding to clip a few inches off the plant. Renegotiation of the Pak-US relationship must begin with moving beyond military assistance.

The writer is a lawyer

Published in Daily Times, February 9th 2018.