Calling Pakistan the "greatest single challenge"
to the next U.S. administration, a bipartisan group of South Asia experts recommends
cutting aid to the Pakistani army unless it commits itself to the counter-insurgency
struggle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
"The Pakistan military should understand that its failure to embrace this
fundamental shift in outlook will significantly reduce U.S. military assistance,"
according to the report by the "Pakistan Policy Working Group" of
the government-supported U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) that was released with
little fanfare here late last week.
"While Washington has muted this warning to Pakistan in the past, the
next administration must convey this message explicitly and convincingly and
then be prepared to follow through," the 13-member group concluded in its
46-page report, entitled "The
Next Chapter: The United States and Pakistan" [.pdf].
The report, which also endorsed a pending congressional package that would
provide Pakistan with $1.5 billion a year in non-military aid, also insisted
that Washington is justified in carrying out unilateral cross-border attacks
into Pakistan against terrorist targets until Islamabad shows "that it
is ready and willing to act aggressively" against them on its own.
At the same, however, "the U.S. will need to be circumspect on the extent
to which it relies on such strikes, recognizing that each strike carries the
cost of undermining U.S. long-term objectives of stabilizing Pakistan and preventing
radical forces from strengthening in the country," according to the report,
which noted that Islamabad halted all fuel shipments to U.S. forces in Afghanistan
in the aftermath of a cross-border attack by U.S. Special Forces in South Waziristan
"Any sustained interruption of supplies would seriously hamper our ability
to operate in Afghanistan because 80 percent of the logistical support for the
U.S. military operating in Afghanistan flows through Pakistan," it said,
noting that Washington should explore alternative supply routes into Afghanistan
in the event that ties with Islamabad worsen.
The new report, which was endorsed by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage and the former co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study
Group, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, is the latest in a growing avalanche of "bipartisan"
reports being churned out by Washington-based think tanks that are designed
to influence the policies of the administration that takes power Jan. 20, whether
it is headed by Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama.
Indeed, Armitage, a former senior Pentagon official who served as deputy secretary
of state during President George W. Bush's first term, is known to be advising
McCain, while Hamilton, a former Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs
Committee of the House of Representatives, endorsed Obama as president last
April and has close ties to major campaign figures.
The report notes that U.S. interests in Pakistan, including its nuclear arsenal
and past proliferation activities, the presence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban
in Pakistan's tribal areas, and the war in Afghanistan, "are more threatened
now than at any time since the Taliban was driven from Afghanistan in 2001."
"Afghanistan cannot succeed without success in Pakistan, and vice versa,"
the report stresses in what has increasingly become conventional wisdom among
the foreign-policy elite here. "Al-Qaeda's growing capabilities and the
insurgency in Afghanistan cannot be addressed effectively until the sanctuaries
in Pakistan are shut down," it notes.
The report argues that the advent of a civilian-led government in Islamabad
during the past year and ultimately the resignation of former President Gen.
Pervez Musharraf, combined with the forthcoming change of administrations here,
marks an important opportunity for Washington "to rethink its entire approach
The new administration here, it said, should "exhibit patience with Pakistan's
new democratically elected leaders" and support their efforts assert their
control of their military, particularly over the military's premier spy agency,
the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which Washington believes has provided
critical assistance to the Taliban and played a key role in the July 7 car-bombing
of the Indian embassy in Kabul.
The report calls the new U.S. administration should order a new National Intelligence
Estimate (NIE) a product of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies
to "form a common operating picture within the U.S. government" on
precisely what Pakistan is doing to both counter and support the Taliban, al-Qaeda,
and other radical armed groups in the region in order to determine to what extent
Islamabad's intent is consistent with U.S. interests.
That NIE would then become the basis for developing a strategy "that seeks
to adjust Pakistan's cost-benefit calculus of using militants in its foreign
policy through close cooperation and by calibrating U.S. military assistance"
At the same time, the new administration should appoint a senior official
dedicated to improving ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan and intensify
its own diplomatic efforts to encourage peace efforts between India and Pakistan.
On the economic front, the report recommends "shifting the center of gravity
in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship from military to nonmilitary engagement."
In that respect, the administration should support the pending congressional
package, provided that Pakistan agrees to use it for projects devoted to basic
education, health care, water-resource management, and law enforcement and justice
programs that can be closely monitored. "The era of the blank check is
over," the report said.
Washington has provided some $11 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001, almost
all of which went to the military, which, in turn, largely failed to use it
for the intended purposes of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. Future
military aid should be conditioned on the army's adoption of these roles, a
shift that, according to the report, "will face bureaucratic opposition."
Group members included more than half a dozen former senior officials and South
Asia specialists who served in State Department, the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence
Agency, and the National Security Council, as well as several independent experts,
including Brookings Institution Fellow Stephen Cohen and RAND Corporation analyst
Christine Fair. The report was co-sponsored by Armitage's consulting firm, Armitage
International; the right-wing Heritage Foundation; and DynCorp International,
a consulting firm and major contractor with the State Department and the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID).
(Inter Press Service)