Why the US paid big money to Pakistan

American dollars were not “wasted”, even if they won’t please prissy auditors

So the New York Times reports that all that money that the United States is giving to the Pakistani military establishment is being “wasted”. Musharraf’s regime is not only overcharging the United States, siphoning off much of it and not spending the money on fighting terrorism, as it should. One European diplomat is quoted as saying that the Americans are being taken for a ride.

Yet none of this is the least bit surprising. The US government knew before and during the entire period that the Pakistani establishment would behave exactly as it is behaving. The lessons of the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s in Afghanistan point to that. Musharraf’s contemporary shopping list—F-16 fighter aircraft, P3-C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and anti-ship missiles—was not exactly secret either. The smart people in Washington won’t be unaware of the principle of fungibility of money, as also the fungibility (to a large extent) of military hardware and training. The European diplomat is either being charitable or being naive. The US government is not a victim of the Pakistani military establishment: it is a willing accomplice.

But its complicity is not without reason. Although the reasons wouldn’t be the ones it can put in front of Congressional auditors. That’s because the money that the US was paying the Musharraf regime was the only way—short of messy, and far more expensive, military methods—it could retain a hold over its actions. The US essentially bought the co-operation of the Pakistani military establishment. The itemised billing was for show. Indeed, this strategy required the US to allow its money to be used, abused, siphoned and spirited away by the Musharraf regime. The idea was not to insist on transparency and accountability on how the funds were spent. Rather, it was to hold Musharraf accountable for the results. The pertinent question that needs to be asked—and criticism leveled against the Bush administration—is how far it pursued the latter. It is also reasonable to ask, in the interests of good governance design, how far the former affected the latter.

Let’s not forget externalities. Supplementing Pakistan’s military budget allowed the Musharraf regime to purchase more weapons than it could otherwise have changing the military balance with respect to India. And the US stands to benefit (via Atanu Dey, who has a lucid explanation of dollar auctions and deadly games) from the inevitable Indian response. If there is a victim in this story, it is the poor Indian taxpayer.

2 thoughts on “Why the US paid big money to Pakistan”

  1. Nursing the Pak military is the low-cost option for its sponsors (US and PRC) for long term ‘containment’ of Indian strategic options and ambitions.

    It has survived numerous administrations and decades, always with some new overt rationale. Leverage against India remains a powerful covert rationale though. Nukes gifted to Pak by PRC with US winks and nods are == Soviet nukes in Cuba, practically.

    The reason why the Pak army is so indulged reason is the same – a strong India that can project naval power from the Gulf to Malacca straits unhindered by *any* local power, an India that other developing nations could coalecse around, and an India that in another generation of two is destined to become the world’s most populous nation, one of its biggest markets (we crack the top 3 by 203x sometime, IMO), biggest labor pools (awe-inspiring demographic dividend could happen), biggest militaries (N-enabled, besides), and a geopolitical ‘pole’ in its own right in a multipolar world – is certain to inspire fear as much as flattery.

    So while Uncle Sam tries to tie us into its orbit with sweet talk and tall promises, they will not let go of the Pak hedge against the India bet going sour. Of course, there’re other uses – proximity to Iran and central asia being another advantage Pak has. Besides, the US has repeatedly done business with both sides of many a divide – China-Taiwan, India-Pakistan, Arab-Israel to name 3 prominent ones. How better to keep oneself relevant and leverage-worthy than to do what the East India company did among our squabbling kingdoms?

    Just my 2 paisa.
    /Have a nice day.

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