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Sugar Daddy Problems: What Have You Done for Me Lately, Pakistan?

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Yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley announced that the US will suspend $800 million of the $2 billion budgeted in aid money for Pakistan. The move confirms that our relationship with Pakistan is deteriorating in serious and tangible ways.

The suspended aid money reportedly includes funds for counterterrorism equipment and operations, some of which have stalled because Pakistan is refusing visas for Western trainers.

The announcement comes just days after Adm. Mike Mullen stated publicly that the Pakistani ISI “may have sanctioned the killing of Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad.” It also follows a recent congressional vote on cutting aid to Pakistan, which was raised in response to Islamabad officials’ “deceptive behavior.”

How does the deteriorating relationship with Pakistan play into our national security strategy? ASP Executive Director Jim Ludes and Senior Fellow Bernard Finel recently wrote that the time is ripe to recalibrate our tactics in the war on terror “into something more likely to increase American security without costing us so much blood and treasure.”

And as we review our strategy in Afghanistan, the same is due for Pakistan. Political problems persist for which military funding may be an inappropriate solution. Where counterterrorism operations are appropriate, perhaps pursuing them in a limited and targeted fashion (as with bin Laden) is smarter than extensively funding a Pakistani military who are themselves acutely aware of their own instability.

Of the nearly $3 billion requested for FY2012 aid to Pakistan, 46% is for economic assistance including “humanitarian aid, health and education services and governance.” For Pakistan to receive these funds, US law says they must demonstrate that they are not harboring terrorists, that they seek to root them out, and that they cooperate with us on substantial nonproliferation and security measures.

Though Secretary Clinton issued the necessary certification in March, the same confirmation would at this time be dubious on all counts.

As noted in ASP’s recent report, “Are We Winning?”, Islamist violence and opinion in Pakistan are on dangerous trends. Only 9% of Pakistanis view US influence as “mainly positive,” favorable views of al Qaeda doubled in the last year, support for cooperation with the US dropped, and a majority oppose our operations in Afghanistan. Furthermore, polling conducted in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) found that a vast majority of people oppose US pursuit of al Qaeda and the Taliban there, and “almost six in ten [FATA residents] believe [suicide] attacks are justified against the US military.”

Increasing opposition to the US within Pakistan is not to be overlooked. Counterinsurgency theorist David Kilcullen wrote in his 2009 book The Accidental Guerrilla that insurgencies often develop when a people seeks to “defend its cultural territory against encroachment”:

“The local guerrillas [that neo-Salafi ‘jihadists’] exploit frequently fight because they perceive Western presence… as a deadly corrosive to local identity. They fight Westerners primarily because we are intruding into their space. Ironically, it is our pursuit of terrorists that has brought us into sustained contact with traditional nonstate societal hierarchies… whose terrain interests Western governments mainly because terrorists hide (or are believed to hide) in it.”

This is a warning worth considering in light of the opinion trends in Pakistan. With public support for US presence in the region decreasing and shady relations with Pakistani leaders growing more problematic, the US is right to begin more careful monitoring of its aid money.

Still, we must repair the damaged partnership with Pakistan in ways that support a reliable, anti-extremist government in Islamabad. US officials know that Pakistan is and will long be our most important state partner in the struggle against al Qaeda. As Pakistan reacts to this initial refusal of aid money, we may soon find out if the feeling is mutual.

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