To quote Trump – “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
This tweet has generated more excitement and praise in India than in America even though the people whose money was being used to breed terrorism in Pakistan were Americans. They are the ones whose money will be saved if President Trump does go on to completely finish the monetary and military aid that America provides Pakistan.
President Trump has for the moment stopped $255 million of aid to Pakistan. Yet, the apparent and quite surprising contradiction is that in November, US Congress had approved reimbursement of $700 million to Pakistan for aiding America’s efforts in Afghanistan. President Trump had afterwards signed this into law.
The first assumption that people are making is that if President Trump stops aid then the Pakistani Army will suffer due to a lack of funds and equipment. This is far from the truth. If it does happen, then China can easily replace it with aid of its own because keeping Pakistan alive and militarily vibrant is in China’s interest. China has already stepped in to defend Pakistan.
Most importantly, the Pakistani Armed Forces – particularly the army – are more a money-making machine than a professional war-fighting entity. They run around 50 commercial entities worth a whopping $20 billion! Here, I’ll add some perspective to it. Habib Bank was the only Pakistani company on the Forbes Global 2000 for 2017 that ranks the biggest companies in the world. It ranked 1819 in the list with assets worth $24.1 billion, sales of $1.6 billion and profits of $325 million. So the biggest legitimate company in Pakistan is just 20% larger in terms of assets owned than the Pakistani armed forces. And one must keep in mind that the $20 billion number of the Pakistani forces might not even show the complete picture. Do you really think such an entity will be left with a begging bowl in hand if America stops aid? This would have been the case had this tough stance come from US president two decades ago, but not quite today.
There are two reasons why aid to Pakistan may still not stop completely – and even if it does it may only be temporarily – despite President Trump explicitly saying so. The two reasons are – 1) Pakistan is almost indispensable to America’s Afghanistan policy and, 2) the ‘Octopus’.
Pakistan and the US have worked together in Afghanistan for a long period of time to counter Russia. They were successful too in doing so with Russia taking massive casualties and leaving Afghanistan. Though, the terms of engagement between the CIA and the ISI were extremely lopsided. The ISI didn’t allow the CIA boots on ground nor did it make available to it much data about the happenings during the war in Afghanistan. ISI’s motive was to maintain absolute supremacy and make America feel that without Pakistan the US will be a headless chicken in the entire campaign. In this manner, the ISI kept obtaining funds and weapons from America saying that it’ll use the same to fight terrorism on ground but instead it used the same to strengthen its forces against India and in fostering terrorism. Despite repeated US presidents knowing of the same, most of them did nothing to change the situation except President Bush who made sincere attempts to punish Pakistan. President Clinton on the other hand was secretly pro-Pakistan.
Now, the US finds itself in a war that is seemingly endless. This is the longest war America has ever been in and Pakistan has been an ally – despite making a blatant fool of the American establishment – in it. If America does decide to quit the war or shrug its alliance with Pakistan, then China and possibly even Russia will swoop in to take its place, something which America can least afford. This is why the aid or reimbursement to Pakistan for supporting the war in Afghanistan may most likely go on in the long term.
Octopus. Yes, I’m referring to the multi-armed mollusc, but in an altogether different context. This ‘Octopus’ has been talked of in detail by American Senator Larry Pressler. It is basically a congregation of many people from a variety of fields who have deeply embedded interests in keeping intact military ties with Pakistan and even other nations. These interests primarily represent military manufacturing firms in America.
One major aspect of Pakistan-US ties has been providing a variety of arms to Pakistan at highly subsidized rates. These weapon sales are in the interest of defence firms in the US, and this is something they can’t let go and never have.
Towards the end of the 20th century, according to the Pressler Amendment, the incumbent president of the US had to assure the Congress that Pakistan wasn’t developing nuclear weapons. If the president couldn’t do so, then Pakistan would receive no aid from America. Yet, not even did Ronald Reagan who was an ardent supporter of the Pressler Amendment stand by it towards the end of his term. Only George Bush tried to enforce the amendment but was eventually ‘overrun’ by the Octopus, while Bill Clinton made efforts to bypass the bill to ensure aid to Pakistan continued. The Pressler Amendment is no more in existence.
Hence, despite President Trump’s honest efforts to punish Pakistan, for him to overcome the extremely powerful Octopus consistently will not at all be easy.
What Benefits India?
Cutting of aid isn’t of as great significance to India for the reasons highlighted above as some think. The only thing that India wants and deserves is Pakistan taking action against terrorists harbored by it that target India.
First of all, one thing that people need to understand is that the pressure Trump is placing on Pakistan isn’t a gutsy move as much as it is a corrective measure for all the years that America has supported and bred terrorism in the region. Had America not used terrorism as a policy to target Russia, it is possible that Pakistan may not have had such a ‘flourishing’ terror industry.
Now why I said ‘deserves’ is because the terror that India suffers from today is due to the humongous American funds that Pakistan diverted to creating the terror industry that bleeds India by a thousand cuts. Hence, cutting of aid or targeting the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network which are primarily groups threatening the US is of no real benefit to India. Unless the US pressurizes Pakistan to take action against terror outfits that have in the past and continue to target India, all this bluster is useless to India. It is time America stops indulging in gimmicks such as placing a bounty on Hafiz Saeed’s head but doing nothing about it. If America can hunt down Osama, why not Saeed? The answer is simple – Hafiz Saeed hasn’t targeted America, and so the US doesn’t really care.
One possible outcome of all this could be that Pakistan conducts a massive operation against terrorists of outfits that target American soldiers. It’ll roll out tanks and have numerous fighter jets bombing vast terrain, and then claiming it has killed many terrorists – it will kill terrorists but the extent of the operation will be highly exaggerated. Pakistan will then claim that it is serious in acting against terrorism, and the US will resume aid.
Despite this, the hope is that the aggressive attitude of the US administration under President Trump will lead to a different outcome. The way the US has reacted to Pakistan’s cheating does definitely show that India’s sentiments and pro-India voices in the American establishment have gained considerable influence in Capitol Hill. President Trump’s hard approach and Prime Minister Modi’s brilliant global diplomacy can combine to teach Pakistan a sound lesson to take on all terrorists, and only then will it be a victory for India.
But one thing can be said – for the first time both India and America have leaders who’re sincere in punishing terrorism and who have no strings attached to nations who support and fund terror. And here is where the hope lies.
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