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|Face Down Pakistani Army
By Selig S. Harrison
April 1, 2009
Unless the Obama administration
can get Pakistan's army to stop supporting the Taliban
with weapons and logistical support, the insurgency will
continue to threaten the U.S.-supported Kabul government — no
matter how many more troops the U.S. sends to Afghanistan.
Pakistan's army and its powerful intelligence agencies control the country's
role in Afghanistan. The outcome of the power struggle between Pakistani President
Asif Ali Zardari and his rival, Nawaz Sharif, will not affect this reality. The
army lets the elected civilian government run domestic affairs and handle economic
aid, but it gets unfettered control of foreign and security policy, including
So it would not be enough for the U.S. to push Pakistan's shaky civilian leadership
on the Taliban issue, and it is not desirable to do so while it is preoccupied
with terrorist violence at home. To get Pakistan's cooperation in Afghanistan,
Washington will have to face down the army, threatening to cut off its largely
unmonitored military aid. But the Obama administration has shied away from this
reality in its newly announced Afghanistan policy, seeking instead to buy off
Islamabad with more economic aid.
Aid to fight Taliban
Since 9/11, the United States has given Pakistan $11.5 billion in economic and
military aid — $7.5 billion of it in the form of direct cash subsidies to the
armed forces, known as "Coalition Support Funds" (CSFs), provided for the express
purpose of fighting the Taliban and other jihadists. Suspicions that Islamabad
has been playing a double game have steadily grown, but it was not until nine
months ago that definitive evidence of its support for the Taliban surfaced.
In his new book, The Inheritance, New York Times correspondent David Sanger reveals
that "several" key U.S. intelligence officials told him of National Security
Agency telephone intercepts in which Pakistan's army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq
Kayani, referred to a key Taliban warlord, Jalaluddin Haqqani, as a "strategic
asset." According to Sanger, another Pakistani general, in a meeting with the
visiting U.S. director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, explained that "we
must sustain contact with the Taliban and support them" to make sure that in
the future, the Afghan government "is a government friendly to Pakistan."
In my own reporting, I found that then-President Pervez Musharraf did just enough
to keep U.S. aid flowing by providing occasional intelligence information on
al-Qaeda activities along the border while at the same time permitting the Taliban
leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, to set up his operational headquarters in the Pakistan
border city of Quetta.
U.S. officials argued that Pakistan would stop providing intelligence on al-Qaeda
if the U.S. forced a showdown on the Taliban issue. But Islamabad is so dependent
on multiple forms of U.S. and U.S.-arranged economic and military aid that Washington
has enormous bargaining leverage — hitherto unused.
To make the Musharraf regime solvent after 9/11, the U.S. orchestrated an extension
of its $13.5 billion in foreign debt. Today the Pakistan economy would collapse
if these debts were called in. Much of the $4 billion in economic and military
aid approved by Congress during the Musharraf years is already in Pakistan's
hands and cannot be used as a bargaining chip. But the U.S. has leverage in the
overblown CSF subsidies. A Government Accountability Office probe last year suggests
widespread fraud in the program and makes clear that it could be drastically
cut without affecting what Pakistan does on the Afghan border.
Cuts would be painful
Threatening to cut CSF funds would get results because the money goes directly
into the Pakistani treasury and — despite U.S. protests — makes it possible for
Pakistan to beef up its military capabilities against India. Since 2001, the
army has doubled its heavy artillery, self-propelled howitzers and combat helicopters.
It has also increased its armory of anti-tank missiles from 200 to 5,250. Faced
with an end to these subsidies, the Pakistan army would become more cooperative
on the Taliban issue.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the threat of an economic aid cutoff
to get Zardari to compromise with Sharif and end the crisis in Islamabad. Now,
military aid leverage should be used before resorting to the Predator missile
strikes and commando raids on Taliban sanctuaries in populous Quetta that some
U.S. officials are advocating.
A cutoff of Pakistani weapons and logistical support to the Taliban would make
a major difference in the military struggle in Afghanistan.
Looking ahead, it would also make the Taliban more amenable to compromise in
any future negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan that the Obama administration
S. Harrison is director of the Asia Program at the Center
for International Policy