During Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s recent visit to Washington, George W. Bush announced an economic development and defense-aid package of $3 billion over the next five years. While it may be necessary to compensate Pakistan for its aid in capturing al-Qaida, the administration needs to realize that the country has not been a consistent and enthusiastic ally in Washington’s war against terror. And it should not risk damaging America’s important relationship with India.
Let’s remember that Pakistan was the chief political and financial sponsor of the Taliban in Afghanistan from the beginning. Without Islamabad’s help, it is unlikely the Taliban would have come to power. And without a Taliban regime in Kabul, Afghanistan never would have become a safe haven for al-Qaida. Pakistan was, therefore, more than a little responsible for Sept. 11.
Even after that attack, Islamabad turned against the Taliban only in response to intense pressure from the United States. Pakistani forces were ineffectual in sealing the border with Afghanistan when U.S. troops had Taliban and al-Qaida fighters on the run in late 2001, yet the Musharraf government refused to give the United States the right of hot pursuit into Pakistani territory. As a result, terrorist units regrouped in Pakistan’s border provinces and to this day continue to harass U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Worse, there were credible reports that rogue elements of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, helped evacuate Taliban and al-Qaida personnel from Afghanistan. Such behavior underscores another key point about Pakistan. Even though the Musharraf government may now be reasonably cooperative with the United States, the country as a whole appears to be drifting toward a radical Islamic orientation. The ISI is riddled with radical Islamic sympathizers, two of the country’s provinces are controlled by Islamist political forces and a radical Islamist party leads in the national parliament.
The Musharraf government itself continues to play a double game on the terrorism issue. True, the regime has arrested a number of high-profile al-Qaida operatives, as well as the suspected killers of journalist Daniel Pearl. At the same time, however, Islamabad continues to support terrorist organizations in Kashmir that are allied with al-Qaida. That is hardly the conduct of a reliable ally in the war on terror.
Washington must be cautious about subsidizing the Musharraf government. Money is fungible, and funds intended for Pakistan’s economic development can easily be siphoned off for other purposes, including aiding allies of al-Qaida. Given the dubious record of the ISI, that is not an irrational concern. Ultimately, Pakistan needs greater will more than it does greater financial resources to confront the forces of terrorism.
The Bush administration also should keep broader U.S. security in mind when it considers aid to Pakistan. America’s long-term interests in Asia require a partnership with India, not Pakistan. India is not only the leading power in South Asia; it is a rising great power with a reach beyond that region. India can be a stabilizing force in the Persian Gulf as well as a strategic counterweight to China. Both of those developments would benefit the United States.
It is imperative that Washington not jeopardize the embryonic strategic partnership with India. Fortunately, Bush declined to approve one item on Musharraf’s wish list: the long-delayed purchase of 60 F-16 fighters. The delivery of such planes to Pakistan would strengthen its military position against India.
Even without that sale, India is nervous about the rapprochement between the United States and Pakistan. Washington needs to be sensitive to those concerns. Pakistan’s cooperation may be necessary in the short term to disrupt al-Qaida’s remaining infrastructure. Given the realities of international politics, that cooperation will not come free. But the United States must be careful not to sacrifice its more important long-term relationship with India.
On balance, a $3-billion aid package seems overly generous. A smaller sum would have been more appropriate to compensate a temporary, and not terribly reliable, ally.