If your rich uncle offers to pay your school fees and you tell him that you want to take some time off, he’s not going to send you the money anyway. It doesn’t mean you are abandoned to your own fate, it just means that the money is for school fees, not a gift for you to spend as you please. Such a scenario happens every day, and no one is surprised. So why is it that we act surprised when the US says that its not going to pay for certain anti-terrorism operations if the military isn’t ready to carry them out?
This latest chapter in the drama started when The New York Times reported that the US is deferring millions in aid to Pakistan. Immediately I began to hear reactions about how the US is abandoning us just as they always do. But look at what the report actually said.
This aid includes about $300 million to reimburse Pakistan for some of the costs of deploying more than 100,000 soldiers along the Afghan border to combat terrorism, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in training assistance and military hardware, according to half a dozen Congressional, Pentagon and other administration officials who were granted anonymity to discuss the politically delicate matter.
Some of the curtailed aid is equipment that the United States wants to send but Pakistan now refuses to accept, like rifles, ammunition, body armor and bomb-disposal gear that were withdrawn or held up after Pakistan ordered more than 100 Army Special Forces trainers to leave the country in recent weeks.
Some is equipment, such as radios, night-vision goggles and helicopter spare parts, which cannot be set up, certified or used for training because Pakistan has denied visas to the American personnel needed to operate the equipment, two senior Pentagon officials said.
And some is assistance like the reimbursements for troop costs, which is being reviewed in light of questions about Pakistan’s commitment to carry out counterterrorism operations. For example, the United States recently provided Pakistan with information about suspected bomb-making factories, only to have the insurgents vanish before Pakistani security forces arrived a few days later.
In other words, the aid isn’t being cut. The generals have made a decision that it is in the national interest not to carry out certain operations at this time. Maybe this is because the military is stretched too thin, maybe the generals believe there is not enough popular support. Either way, the result is that American funds that were tied to these operations will be put on hold also. But the money isn’t being “cut” and it isn’t going away.
White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley told ABC TV that the money was only being held back until the two nations could come to agreements about operations that the funds can be used for, even praising Pakistan’s sacrifice and saying that the money has been “committed”.
Speaking on ABC’s This Week programme, Mr Daley accepted that Pakistan had been “an important ally in the fight on terrorism. They’ve been the victim of enormous amounts of terrorism”.
He added: “It’s a complicated relationship in a very difficult, complicated part of the world. Obviously, there’s still lot of pain that the political system in Pakistan is feeling by virtue of the raid that we did to get Osama Bin Laden, something that the president felt strongly about and we have no regrets over.
“Until we get through these difficulties, we will hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give them.”
More importantly, and this seems to be getting completely lost in the discussion, is the fact that this announcement affects no civilian aid. Regardless, I continue to hear that the US is cutting one-third of its aid to Pakistan. That is not true. The funds being discussed are actually only specific military aid as is clear from the original report in the New York Times.
Army spokesman Gen Abbas issued a statement that the military is capably of fighting without American assistance. Of course it is. The American assistance is helpful in off setting costs associated with joint anti-terrorism operations on the Afghan border, but it is only a drop in the bucket of the full $6.41 Billion military budget.
Pakistan has plenty of resources to defend its borders. Now, I might argue that this money can be better spent by re-focusing on immediate rather than hypothetical threats, but that is for another post. The point is that the national security will be looked after. And neither is the US abandoning Pakistan – far from it. No cut has been made to the civilian aid package which is arguably far more important as it can be used to improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. And military aid that is not related to the operations that are on hold is still flowing.
Officers and officials of both countries should be able to make decisions based on their own national interests and legal requirements of their own countries. This doesn’t mean that relations are falling apart or that worst fears are being realised. We have to stop evaluating everything with emotions and use reason instead. Doing so in this case will save a lot of heartburn.