US-Pak: intertwined, but going nowhere - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 25 July 2011

US-Pak: intertwined, but going nowhere

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th July 11

Has the ISI’s hospitality to Osama bin Laden, and Islamabad’s furious response to his killing, become a tipping point in the US-Pakistan relationship? That Washington is intent on painting Islamabad black is evident from the American media’s front-page coverage of last week’s arrest of Kashmiri separatist, Ghulam Nabi Fai. Not only has Washington belatedly acted on the worst kept secret in town --- that Fai’s Kashmir American Council was an ISI-funded lobby group --- but it also embarrassed Islamabad (if that is any longer possible) by leaking every detail of the story to the media. As with the holding back of US military aid worth $800 million, Washington’s urge to punish Pakistan currently overrides its desire to remain engaged with that difficult partner. For India, this poses crucial questions: is this mere bickering in an old and abusive relationship? Or does this portend a more fundamental change?

Any American re-evaluation of its engagement with Pakistan is done with an eye on the elephant in the room: China. Pakistan has cunningly stoked American apprehension that any downturn in their relationship would drive Islamabad towards Beijing. Given the history of the latter relationship --- including the illicit transfer of nuclear and missile technology and components --- Washington has chosen to tolerate Pakistan’s perversity rather than deal with a vengeful Islamabad glowering from Beijing’s lap.

Significantly, China has appeared less than eager to shoulder the burden of Pakistan. After the US held back $800 million in military aid, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei, was asked on 12th July whether China would fill that gap. His answer: “As a friendly neighbour, China has all along been providing assistance to Pakistan within its capacity, helping Pakistan improve people's well-being and realize sustainable economic and social development. China will continue doing so in the future.”

The excitable Pakistani and Indian media interpreted this as China’s willingness to take up the slack. But a careful reading of Hong’s statement would find not a word on military aid. What Beijing really said was: “China has a limited capacity to help even its good friend, Pakistan. As in the past, China will continue providing aid for economic and social development.”

Watchers from India fear that America will soon abandon the tough love and revert to playing Islamabad’s cuckold again. And Washington analysts have begun their familiar drumbeat: relations with the Pakistani military must be kept alive at all costs. (e.g. Howard Schaffer: “It is regrettable that the charges against Fai have been raised at a point when U.S.-Pakistan relations face a host of problems far more consequential than alleged wrongdoings by Pakistan’s lobbyists in Washington.”)

There is a fundamental flaw in such binary reasoning, in which Washington must either cut off relations with Islamabad entirely, or continue willingly to be taken to the cleaners. The reality, evident over the last five years, is that Washington has become progressively less trustful of Pakistan, maintaining relations but demanding more proof of Islamabad’s bona fides. A detailed reading of America’s diplomatic cables from Islamabad (Wikileaks, thanks!) highlights this crumbling trust.

Washington’s disillusionment began long before the Osama embarrassment, when it caught the Pakistan Army with its hand in the aid till. The US has given Islamabad $1.2 billion annually: $200 million for the civilian Economic Support Fund (ESF); and $860 million in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) reimbursements. The latter requires Pakistan to submit reimbursement claims for military operations in the tribal areas that support US operations in Afghanistan. But the US embassy in Islamabad, which scrutinises Pakistan’s claims, complained to Washington (in cable 129633 dated 10th Nov 07) that much of the money is siphoned off. According to that cable, “only 50-60 percent of CSF funds actually reach the military, and less than half of that may reach that segment of the armed forces bearing the burden of that claimed expenditure.” While Pakistan claimed $55 million for helicopter operations from Jul 06 – Feb 07, the embassy estimated that the operations of Pakistan’s entire helicopter force could not possibly have cost more than $20 million, since barely 20% of the army’s Cobra attack helicopter force was functional.

Washington’s growing distrust of its putative ally was also evident in what it did to prevent sophisticated American night vision devices (NVDs) from being passed on to militants. Each NVD provided to the Pakistan Army had to be physically brought to Peshawar every month for end-use verification by US officials. Pakistani generals complained bitterly that important operations were being jeopardised by pulling out NVDs at crucial junctures, but Washington was having none of it. The trust had gone.

Pakistan’s declining currency is now evident in Washington’s outreach to authoritarian, pro-Russia regimes in Central Asia for developing its Northern Delivery Network (NDN) for supplying its forces in Afghanistan. Earlier 85% of US supplies came through Pakistan; that dependency is now 50% and will reduce to 25% next year. General William M Fraser, the nominated chief of the US Air Force Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), told the US Air Force Magazine: “In 2010, two additional routes were added through the Baltics and Central Asia and continue to improve the processes, facilitating a faster, less costly cargo flow… USTRANSCOM (has also secured) access to additional airfields and seaports in the Persian Gulf. Using a concept called multi-modal operations, large volumes of cargo and thousands of vehicles were moved by sea to locations in closer proximity to the USCENTCOM area of operations, by truck from the seaports to the nearby airfields and then by air to Afghanistan.”

No American trucks through Pakistan does not mean no American truck with Pakistan. Washington will continue to engage Islamabad, but the rules of that engagement are now in transition.


  1. Anyone practising the oldest profession in the world understands that eventually the lustre will fade. So also must Pakistan now come to terms with this.

    It still has some small trump cards visavis energy hungry India. But I think India can outmaneover them there too[provided the politicians use their brains].

    This write-up of yours was like music to my ears though I do not hate Pakistanis per-se. But their leadership needs to be thought a few decisive lesons.

    Well done Uncle Sam.

  2. The disturbing question now is : Can India TRUST Washington's stab in the back,
    despite of providing political, financial, diplomatic and logistical support to Fai's activities for over 25 years ?

    I think the question of strategic partnership with US should be taken with pinch of salt, pepper and sawdust.

  3. Colonel,

    The famous saying of Bush stands good. He said Pakistan is " bloody son of Bitches but son of our (American) bloody bitches"..

    That is fundamental preposition on which relations between the two countries are based.

    It is not time yet when an American President would say that "pakistanies are bloody sons of Chinese bitches"...

    Kayani or Pasha continue to be in the former category...

    Then what is the confusion... ??

  4. why is it that indian write ups are so shallow and rotting with cheesy lines? i mean for gods this your best shot mr.shukla? a little advise for you: write with whole world in mind, not just indian public obsessed with anti pakistanism.

  5. US unfortunately and rather unwillingly has turned out itself to become the third point of a vicious triangle with Sino and Pak.

    They have got so much entangled with each other in the matters of business, economy, loans, import-export, offense, defense, terrorism and counter-terrorism, so much so that none among them can come out alive and unscathed.

    So as a prudent move, India should remain a distant friend with them and prepared for any eventuality.

  6. Col. Shukla -

    Thank you for yet another excellent article.

    Some thoughts and observations here:

    - China will never give 1.2 billion US$ in annual aid to Pakistan; it already has Pakistan by the balls. Chinese strategy will never pay extra for something that is already one's slave in more ways than one. What additional benefit will China get from doling out out more money? Unless of course Pakistan pledges over all its known and unknown natural resources to China...What really are Pakistan's options with China, after being taught a lesson by America? Threaten China with trouble in Xinjiang? I'd like to think that the Pakistani generals heads are not so deeply up their own backsides to try that, for fear of full emasculation by China. Core interests and all

    - Howard and Teresita Schaffer are well known to have a soft spot for Pakistan ever since the old days of their time in the region. However, even they have been singing a slighly
    different tune these days...

    - America is now plagued with the decisions it has to make; either be guilt-tripped by accusations of abandoning Pakistan "yet again" after it had its way with Pakistan, or to really tighten the screws to bring sense to the blind fools of Rawalpindi.. All this without further inflaming the anti-American sentiment the average Pakistani has been fed by the Islamist parties and funny side of the media there..despite spending even more(for education and such) than the Pakistani government for the welfare and development of Pak society.

    It is thankless being the lone, receding superpower, while seeing the the elephant in the room reaps benefits of all America's pains and spent gold and spilt blood in the region, starting in the form of the Aynak mines..

    - As for us, balanced, independant, selfish (emulating China's practice of diplomacy) policy is the need. We cannot afford to simply become the new pawn in America's plan... and yet there seems to be no way to avoid being part of Kissinger's rumoured Plan B for CHina. What is that fine line? A real strategic partnership is not a bad thing, but then, of late the Americans have been using the phrase "strategic partnership" quite freely with many nations.... So, whats the real deal?

    Can our leadership and instruments of state policy rise up to the challenges brought about by a slowly but surely imploding Pakistan? The shockwaves from that implosion may very well cause far reaching tsunamis for all its neighbours, friends and foes...

    @ Anon at 10:46 - Funny comparison about the Land Of The Pure and the Oldest Profession :) I had a nice little laugh. How true, and what a bitter pill for them .."Purely Professional". Howard Schaffer and his wife have a nice book on how Pakistan negotiates with the US, its worth reading for instances of how your observation is accurate in some contexts.

    Also, I personally know some really nice Pakistani people. Aam janta. It's a pity that the idiots in Rawalpindi have no real concern for the average Pakistani.

  7. @ Anonymous 00:36

    Thanks for your suggestion. By the way, just to help you in your future forays into blog posting, it is not "advise". It is "advice".

    When you give advice, you are advising. The "c" is used with advice when it is used as a noun, the "s" when it is used as a verb.

    All the best

  8. Anon@00.36
    What is whole world in mind ? can u elaborate on that; i some how feel that .. from ur perspective world starts and ends in ur place of origin ;-)

    Tech Photography and Travel

  9. @anon 00:36
    Truth hurts, doesn't it? :-)

  10. Ajai

    I hope you have accounted for $ 1 mn as construction cost of the Osama residence by the ISI and $ 500,000 per annum for its maintenance.

    Jai Bush
    Jai Obama


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