China and Neighbourhood

Washington Has Limited Options In Trying To Halt Possible “Meltdown” In Pakistan — Experts

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Joshua Kucera


his decade, Pakistan has been one of the largest recipients of US military aid in the world, receiving almost $12 billion. Yet the security situation there continues to spiral downward.


President Barack Obama has shifted the US military’s attention to the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, and Congress is considering proposals that would alter the form of US military aid to Pakistan. One bill, The Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement (PEACE) Act of 2009, would increase the conditions placed on aid to Pakistan, for example administering it through the civilian government rather than directly to the military, prohibiting US funds from going toward the purchase of F-16 fighter jets, and demanding better security surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear program.


A bill for supplemental funding of the military for fiscal year 2009 would provide $400 million to a Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, which would provide helicopters, night-vision goggles and other equipment, and give counterinsurgency training to Pakistan’s special operations forces and Frontier Corps paramilitary troops. The money would be administered by the US Department of Defense, rather than the State Department, which provides most foreign military aid.

Despite the new proposals for aid, Pakistan experts who testified at a recent hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, titled the “Future of the US-Pakistan Military Partnership,” were pessimistic about the American options for dealing with the Pakistani military.


David Barno, director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University and a former three-star general who commanded US forces in Afghanistan, issued a dire warning: “A meltdown of government and society in Pakistan would rapidly become the preeminent national security threat facing the United States. Events in Pakistan are spiraling out of control and our options in reversing the downward acceleration are limited at best.


“For years, the Pakistan intelligence and security services have viewed the Taliban and associated extremist groups as their tools in the long term struggle with India – forces that could be generated, shaped and directed to serve the interests of the Pakistani state. That day is now irrevocably over. A struggle for the very soul of Pakistan has commenced and the state of Pakistan has a fatally weak hand to play in this conflict. A key role of the United States and our international friends and allies must be to strengthen this hand.”


Barno said the Pakistani military is ill-equipped to counter the extremist threat, as officers are indoctrinated to believe that India, not home-grown Islamists, represents the greatest security threat to Pakistan. Years of US military sanctions against Pakistan (lifted only after the September 11 terrorism tragedy) denied access for a generation of Pakistani military officers to US training programs that in the past had built trust between the two countries, he said.


The United States should focus more on developing the capacity of police forces in Pakistan, said David Kilcullen, a top counterinsurgency advocate who also testified during the congressional hearing. Police traditionally have been weak in Pakistan because they represent an institutional threat to the armed forces. But Kilcullen said that current and proposed US aid programs give “insufficient attention and insufficient funding to reforming and building up the Pakistani police, including the Frontier Constabulary and the regular police.


“The police are a critically important element in any counterinsurgency [effort] and I am not aware of any successful campaign in which police reform, police capability-building, police intelligence and the use of police to protect the population and uphold law and order, were not key components,” Kilcullen added. “Pakistan needs a much larger, much better equipped, better trained, better supported and better paid police force.”


Among the needs of police in Pakistan, he said, are better training in counterinsurgency, better communications equipment, better protected vehicles, better weapons and equipment, body armor, better accommodations and living quarters for families, better training in investigation and community policing practices, and better access to the legal and judicial system.


According to Barno, Washington should also throw its weight behind improving Pakistan-India relations; taking a longer-term, strategic approach to the US-Pakistani relationship; demonstrating that it is capable of improving the security situation in Afghanistan and that it has a long-term strategy there; and continued US assistance to Islamabad that is “lightly” conditioned.


“Pakistan is a state on trajectory leading toward failure – and the United States must prevent this option at almost all costs,” Barno said. “That said, American aid detached from performance by the Pakistani government and military has proved fruitless. Reasonable benchmarks of Pakistani progress in using American (and other international) aid is a reasonable price for the willingness of American and other taxpayers to underwrite the future of Pakistan as a state.”


Copyright (c) 2003 Open Society Institute. Reprinted with the permission of the Open Society Institute, 400 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019 USA, or

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