Everyone is weighing in on the news that the U.S. is halting hundreds of millions of dollars (basically, a lot of zeroes) in military aid to Pakistan. According to news agencies, about $800 million in military aid and equipment – over one-third of the more than $2 billion in annual American security assistance to Pakistan – could be affected. The NY Times noted in its coverage, “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…”
Given the spiraling relations between the U.S. and Pakistan in recent months, this news is not all together surprising. But it still is a pretty significant public move by Washington. Cue reactions. India – not surprisingly – welcomed the development, saying “a heavy presence of arms would have disturbed the equilibrium in the region.” Pakistan – via Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas – essentially stated, “We didn’t need yo money, anyway!” (His actual statement: “We can conduct our operations without external support.” But you get my gist.) The U.S. Ambassador to India, Thomas Pickering, made this point,
We tend to need Pakistan more than Pakistan needs us. That’s the current dilemma, because in many ways the United States is utterly dependent on Pakistan for logistical access to Afghanistan. In some respects this situation is paradoxical, because in my own view the United States is in Afghanistan more to avoid destabilizing Pakistan than for almost any other reason.
Hmm. In The Atlantic, Steve Clemons makes a similar point:
…The raw truth is that America has no real choice but to remain engaged with Pakistan — but this can’t be a binary arrangement in which Pakistan extorts and the US turns a blind eye to Pakistan’s role empowering rogue regimes and animating some of the world’s worst transnational terrorists. Slow disengagement, a decrease in financial support (as the US has just done) — though not a full suspension — some arm-twisting of its patrons like China and Saudi Arabia and some strategic clarity in the Obama administration on what the real prize here is — which is a less psychotic Pakistan…
Jeffrey Goldberg (also for The Atlantic) believes that humiliating Pakistan is not a good policy, noting, “It seems that it would be more in the American self-interest to speak quietly to Pakistan at moments like this, rather than to deliver a public spanking.” He added, “I will make a bold prediction: Six months or a year from now, we will look back on the withholding of aid as a failure of policy.”
What do you think? First, remember that U.S. civilian aid to Pakistan has not been impacted. Second, from a strategic perspective, the U.S. cannot afford to turn off all military aid to Pakistan, particularly given their presence in Afghanistan. It’s just not going to happen. They are, however, halting just enough to make a statement – both to the American public as well as to Pakistan. But in the grander scheme, will this move impact the chess game that is U.S.-Pakistan relations? Ayesha Siddiqa told Reuters, “America understands that Pakistan needs money. Pakistan is insolvent. It cannot disengage (from the United States), so eventually it will turn around.”
So based on the punditry and statements, here’s what we have: the U.S. knows they can’t fully cut off Pakistan. Pakistan knows that the U.S. knows this. Pakistan knows they can’t fully disengage from their relations with the U.S. The U.S. also knows that Pakistan knows this. So both know stuff that the other knows they know.
If you’re like me, your head hurts right now too.
But because I’m a fan of comedians-who-are-better-pundits-than-actual-pundits, here’s a good breakdown of the situation by Stephen Colbert (barring the fact that the “terrorist” in the clip sounds more Mexican than Pakistani):Vodpod videos no longer available.