Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Missing the point entirely

In the political fallout following the death of OBL in  Pakistan, there has been much speculation (both formal and informal) on its continuing role in the "War on Terror". At the epicenter of all this political drama, is the future of the financial aid that Pakistan receives from the US ($20.7 billion since 2002 via Foreign Policy Magazine). Given the inadequate (to say the least) performance of Pakistan's military establishment in the OBL fiasco and its double game of sponsoring militancy in Afghanistan, it would be obvious to think that military aid would be first up on the chopping block.

Apparently not.

From what the Cable has been reporting, it is in fact civilian aid (Kerry-Lugar bill, $7.5 billion in 5 years) to Pakistan that is being reviewed. According to Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) chairman of the Senate armed services committee, while the United States is interested in "developing a stable democracy", it is not the most pressing issue at the moment. There are also additional concerns that the civilian aid about its appropriation and lack of spending oversight.

I'm not here to defend the civilian government in Pakistan or to point out that concerns regarding spending and oversight are exaggerated.  However, given the primary role of the military and security establishment in this fiasco, to only review civilian aid is (I'm sorry to say) idiotic.

First of all, unconditional military aid is one of the biggest mistakes that the United States has made in its dealings with Pakistan. Given that this aid has been used to fund the war machine against India, not securing the AfPak border or dealing with militant networks responsible for destabilizing Afghanistan, continuing it without question is only going to embolden the military to remain in this way.

Secondly, a stable democracy in Pakistan is vital to the long term interests of the United States. The problem of militancy in Pakistan is linked directly to the failure of the state to develop institutions and infrastructure that address the most pressing concern of its people. While the civilian government(s) (past and present) are to blame for this failure, the military establishment has also played an important role in undermining development by actively pushing for increased defense spending (which has increased by 17% this year) at the cost of other government programs. While military spending can deal with militancy itself, it cannot solve its underlying causes (social inequality, lack of access to education, religious fundamentalism and unemployment). Civilian aid will go further in dealing with these problems than military spending ever can.

Over the past 10 years, military aid to Pakistan has not yielded substantial results in the reduction of militancy in the region. With the obvious involvement of the military and security establishment in maintaining OBL in Pakistan, it's time to try something new. May I suggest seriously reviewing military aid packages as well?