The Obama administration continues to push the Congress to pass the aid packet to Pakistan, which, in addition to increasing the military aid, will triple the non-military assistance to the tune of $7.5 billion over the next five years.
This is fine and good. There is an urgent need to pump money to infrastructure projects in that country to reverse the root causes of terrorism. However, it is befuddling that the Administration wants to extend this money without any conditions or benchmarks.
It is widely known that Pakistan has two power centers, and the Armed Forces wield much more power than the weak civilian government. It is also common knowledge that any aid given to Pakistan disappears without much trace. In addition, the current President, Mr. Zardari, is locally known as ‘Mr. 10%’ because of the ‘commission’ he exacted from suppliers during the two-time Prime Ministership of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto.
Sine 2001, the US has forked over $12 billion to the then regime of General Musharraf, who came to power in 1999 after a bloodless coup. The Pentagon has found that the accounting for this money has been absent or dubious.
Candidate Obama avowed to end this policy of giving Pakistan “a blank check” if elected. He also pointed out how Pakistan is diverting the money given to fight the terrorists towards enhancing its defense capabilities against India.
Now, his administration nixes any efforts by the Congress to attach any conditionsto the Kerry-Lugar bill, as is being attempted in the House version; the Administration prefers the less stringent Senate one. His point man for the AfPak region, Mr. Holbrooke, is advising Congress to hand over the money to Pakistan without many restrictions. He urged Congress to find a “sweet spot” in terms of requirements made on Pakistan’s government.
This push comes from the Administration despite the statements by its own members about the dangerous situation in Pakistan. Defense Secretary Gates has accused the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) of “playing both sides”, adding that though Islamabad has committed itself to be part of the US-led war against terrorism in the region, it continues to maintain links with the extremist elements.
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff said about the terrorists: “They’re living in Pakistan and being protected by the Pakistanis… the Taliban in particular….” He too is concerned about the ISI-terrorist nexus.
Responding to a question from Senator John McCain about Pakistan’s obsession with India, Admiral Mullen said the Pakistan army still is “heavily focused on India”. To another Senator’s question if Pakistan was increasing its nuclear arsenal, he gave a one-word answer, “Yes”.
This is indeed very worrisome. In July 2006, the ISIS (Institute for Science and International Security) reported that satellite imagery suggested that Pakistan is constructing “…a second heavy water production reactor inside the Khushab Complex…”
In April 2006, ISIS issued an update: “The [satellite] imagery shows that major construction of the buildings associated with the second Khushab reactor are likely finished and that the roof beams are being placed on top of the third Khushab reactor hall”
This can explain where the part of the $12 billion given to General Musharraf by President Bush went. Now Mr. Obama wants to assist Pakistan knowing that some or most of the money will be diverted to enhancing its military capabilities against a perceived threat from India, rather that helping the US fight the terrorists. As Admiral Mullen said, “We’ve got a long way to go with respect to the entire [Pakistani] army thinking that the only existential threat they have is from the west [and not from India]“
Though not much is know to the West about the Pakistani nuclear program, it is known that there are four sites where the reactors are based. No place in Pakistan is free from terrorists – as evidenced by them taking over territory within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad – one is in Quetta. This is the capital of Baluchistan, where,according to Admiral Mullen, resides Mullah Omar, the deposed leader of Taliban in Afghanistan.
According to an Israeli journal, Debka, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warned President Obama that nuclear sites in Pakistan’s restive frontier province are “already partly” in the hands of Islamic extremists. It is believed thatofficials in Washington are already aware of this fact.
Robert Windrem, a visiting scholar with the Center for Law and Security in New York University and an expert on South Asia nuclear issues, told the Times of India: “It is quite disturbing that the administration is allowing Pakistan to quantitatively and qualitatively step up production of fissile material without as much as a public reproach… Iraq and Iran did not get a similar concessions… and Pakistan has a much worse record of proliferation and security breaches than any other country in the world.”
In his memoir “At the Center of the Storm”, former CIA Director George Tenet has pointed out that Khushab’s (the nuclear reactor being expanded) former director, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood met with Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and offered a nuclear weapons tutorial around an Afghanistan campfire.
In a recent article, Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, wonders if Pakistani Army has changed its mind. Mr. Zakaria refers to a book by Mr. Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani diplomat who recently became ambassador to Washington, “Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military”.
In the book, Mr. Husain marshals strong evidence that, at least until recently, the Pakistani military made the pretense of arresting militants in order to get funds from Washington. But it never shut down the networks. “From the point of view of Pakistan’s Islamists and their backers in the ISI [Pakistan’s military intelligence],” Haqqani writes, “jihad is on hold but not yet over. Pakistan still has an unfinished agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir.”
This explains why the Pakistani Army has suddenly woken up to the dangers terrorists pose in Swat: The bill for aid to Pakistan is now being debated in the Congress!
Mr. Zakaria contends that “The book concludes by telling how Pakistan’s military has used the threat from these militant groups to maintain power, delegitimize the civilian government and—most crucial of all—keep aid flowing from the United States.”
So, does Mr. Obama feel that a sudden change has descended in the thinking of the Pakistani State and Military? Is this why he wishes to continue to provide a blank check to Pakistan, something he had himself opposed?
Mr. Zakaria reminds us of what Warren Buffett once called the four most dangerous words in investing: “This time it’s different.”