When I saw the headline hit Twitter on Saturday, U.S. Is Deferring Millions in Pakistani Military Aid, I immediately thought the worst. But after reading the Times report in full, my fears were allayed. Despite the calls from some to cut aid to Pakistan, this was not happening. The government was merely pausing the delivery of some aid because the trainings and other deliverables the aid was intended to pay for were also being put on hold. Over the next two days, however, the story seems to have taken on a life of its own, and much of the following reporting and commentary does not match reality.
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg describes the latest news as a policy of “humiliating Pakistan.” Goldberg appears to be basing his read on a single Politico article. What else could explain this paragraph:
What is important is that the Obama Administration believes that public embarrassment of an on-again, off-again ally in the fight against Islamist terrorism will bring that ally to heel. This does not seem like a path to success. The Pakistanis want the respect of the U.S., or at least some recognition that, despite the Bin Laden calamity, they have also suffered at the hand of extremists, and that thousands of Pakistanis have died fighting extremism.
Here’s what Bill Daley actually said:
“Obviously they have been an important ally in the fight on terrorism. They’ve been the victim of enormous amounts of terrorism,” Daley said. “But right now they have taken some steps that have given us reason to pause on some of the aid which we were giving to their military, and we’re trying to work through that.”
Unlike Jeffrey Goldberg’s assertion, the Obama administration has and continues to recognize Pakistan’s suffering at the hands of extremists and the great sacrifice their military has made in the fight against militant extremists, and continues to be an ally to Pakistan in our mutual struggle against terrorism.
Daniel Markey, Senior Fellow for Indian, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, at least realizes that cutting aid to Pakistan is not a viable means of changing Pakistan’s strategic calculus, but he too continues the narrative that deferring this military aid is in some way punitive.
The Obama administration is putting the screws to Pakistan, cutting roughly 40 percent of U.S. military assistance (NYT) and publicly challenging the activities of Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI). The question is: Will these coercive efforts pay dividends, or will they contribute to a downward spiral in U.S.-Pakistan relations?
But is this really “putting the screws to Pakistan?” Let’s take a moment to revisit the original New York Times report.
Altogether, about $800 million in military aid and equipment, or over one-third of the more than $2 billion in annual American security assistance to Pakistan, could be affected, three senior United States officials 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.
As is clear from the Times report, much of the aid is being held up because it’s earmarked for trainings and operations that aren’t happening, or it’s assistance that “Pakistan now refuses to accept.” This sounds more like basic accounting than “putting the screws to Pakistan.”
And that’s not all. The headline on the original Times report used the term “deferring”. The reporters spoke of the administration “suspending and, in some cases, canceling”. When speaking with ABC, White House Chief of Staff Daley said, “hold back.” The only people talking about “cutting aid” are journalists and analysts.
I mention Jeffrey Goldberg and Daniel Markey specifically because these two gentlemen both have a history of writing fair and accurate analyses of US-Pakistan relations. And, yet, they both fall for the chicken little narrative that sees every development as a sign of the end of US-Pakistan relations.
According to government officials, the US is holding back aid that is earmarked for specific deliverables that are also being put on hold. If Pakistan chooses to resume these trainings and other operations, the funds will be delivered. There has been no “cut” to the amount of aid approved for Pakistan.
[Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan] emphasized the delayed aid is a hold, not a halt, and the funds may be delivered if the two nations can resolve certain issues.
The US and Pakistan continue to cooperate in the fight against militant extremists, including Pakistani military offensives against Taliban fighters along the border with Afghanistan. Over a billion dollars in military aid for mutually agreed upon operations continues to flow to Pakistan, as does the billions of dollars in civilian aid set aside by the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill. Reality may be less exciting, but it is the way things are.