Aid Wars: US-Pakistan and Politics of Coercion

In a latest move, the US government has decided to  suspend $800 million military aid to Pakistan. It is fairly obvious that grounds for this had already been smoothed by the powers that be: The recent statements by senior US military officers about involvement of ISI in the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, it seems, was the tipping point of war of words and silence that has been going on between the two allies. Another reason being given for this drastic step is   “the Pakistani army’s decision to significantly reduce the number of visas for U.S. military trainers” (Douglass Birch, AP).

It is also being suggested that the US wants the Pakistan army to launch a major offensive in the tribal regions to ease pressure on the US forces across the border in Afghanistan. Those of you who have read my recent public writings know that I am not really a fan of the Pakistan army brass, but in this situation I agree with General Kiyani’s suggestion that “the aid should be diverted to civilian institutions.” This means that while General Kiyani is not willing to kowtow to the American policy makers, he understands the importance of this aid and would rather still have it delivered to the civilian government of Pakistan.

In fact, this could be a very important step for the US. By diverting this aid to the civilian administration, the US can convey its displeasure to the Pakistan army–whatever their reasons–without hurting the general Pakistani population. Let us not forget that there is a popular myth in Pakistan about the fickleness of US friendship: we tell stories–some true some pure legend–of how America betrayed us time and time again. This step would only enhance the level of distrust of the US by the Pakistani public.

The same report that I cited above also suggests that Pakistan, it seems, has not been doing enough in the war on terror. Let us not forget that both Pakistani civilians and military personnel have sacrificed heavily during this unending war. As I wrote a few months ago, the losses have been great. Here are some of the figures as provided to me by some very reliable sources within the Pakistan army:

  • There were 118 drone strikes in 2010 claiming 1127 lives of which 680 are believed to be those of civilian bystanders.
  • As of January 2011, Pakistan has lost 2740 soldiers while 8500 of them have been wounded in action.
  • According to very conservative estimates about 5800 civilian were killed during 2010 due to terrorist actions.
  • Total civilian casualties in Pakistan since 9/11 have now exceeded 36,000.

These are some of the figures of what has befallen Pakistan since the beginning of this unending war. The intangible factors are beyond just these figures that include destruction of infrastructure, loss of productivity, and simple increase in public fear of terroristic attacks and reprisals.

So, those who claim Pakistan has not done enough should get off their proverbial, prejudiced behinds and look at the situation more carefully. This is no way of treating an ally: one simply does not kick one’s friends when they are down. The US policymakers need to realize that using Pakistan as their whipping boy to buttress their domestic political agendas is not good policy and may come to harm US interests in the long run. On a simple level, I would suggest that instead of playing this game of coercive power politics, try to develop a serious, equal, and lasting relationship with Pakistan.

Yes, there will be policy differences between the two nations: Pakistan, after all, is a sovereign nation and, thankfully, not a US colony. It is time the US government realized that politics of coercion will not work, but a serious attempt at helping Pakistan develop its civilian infrastructures might help the US in the long run.

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