The screws, they tighten on Pakistan’s military establishment

Washington is negotiating by other methods

So the Obama administration has announced that it has suspended $800m in aid to the Pakistani military establishment, amounting to around a third of the annual outlay. This is a bold departure from the traditional throw-more-money-at-the-problem approach that has not quite worked for the United States, Pakistan or other countries affected by the depredations of the military-jihadi complex. It does not yet, however, amount to a decision to cut Pakistan loose. (As I advocated in a recent WSJ op-ed).

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, is right when he says a “pause” is not quite the same as “aid cut-off.” In recent weeks, Washington has ratcheted up the pressure on the Pakistani military establishment. (See this post). Cutting off military aid marks a further turning of the knob, albeit a much bigger one. Why? To make the Pakistani military more amenable to doing what Washington wants it to, and what since even before Osama bin Laden’s killing, General Ashfaq Kayani was refusing to do. What might these be? Taking down al-Qaeda linked taliban groups that Pakistan shelters on its soil, permitting US counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan and ensuring that Pakistan’s Afghan proxies do not disrupt a settlement in Kabul.

These are limited objectives. It is premature to conclude that the Obama administration has decided to break with its ally (the Pakistani military establishment), or even to make the rebalancing of civil-military relations a policy goal.

Even so, Washington’s move will have the effect of strengthening the civilian, anti-military political establishment, not least because the country’s elite will see that the all-powerful generals do not have the US behind them. This can galvanise greater opposition to the army although an open revolt is nowhere on the cards. It is unfortunate that at a time when the military establishment is at its weakest, the main political parties are fighting internecine battles. Given the ISI’s history of manipulating the country’s political parties, the eruption of conflict among Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif, Muttahida Quami Movement and Awami National Party might not be a mere coincidence.

As the US reduces its troop levels in Afghanistan and its dependence of Pakistan to provide supply routes, it becomes less beholden to the Pakistani military establishment. Unless Pakistan manages get China and Saudi Arabia to intervene on its behalf, the Obama administration can continue to mount pressure on General Kayani & Co.

The risk now is of the military establishment attempting out-of-the-box solutions to get out of the box.

Popular predators

The unpopularity of US drone strikes has been exaggerated
Pakistani politicians fume and rant against US unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in the tribal areas in Pakistan’s North-west. The outrage is a charade, at least for the politicians in government, because some of the UAVs are operating out air bases in Pakistan, ostensibly with the knowledge and permission of the Pakistani government.

But a survey of the affected populations in the tribal areas, conducted by the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA), a local think-tank, found that the people do not quite share the same level of outrage.

The popular notion outside the Pakhtun belt that a large majority of the local population supports the Taliban movement lacks substance. The notion that anti-Americanism in the region has not increased due to drone attacks is rejected. The study supports the notion that a large majority of the people in the Pakhtun belt wants to be incorporated with the state and wants to integrate with the rest of the world.

    —Do you see drone attacks bringing about fear and terror in the common people? (Yes 45%, No 55%)
    —Do you think the drones are accurate in their strikes? (Yes 52%, No 48%)
    —Do you think anti-American feelings in the area increased due to drone attacks recently? (Yes 42%, No 58%)
    —Should Pakistan military carry out targeted strikes at the militant organisations? (Yes 70%, No 30%)
    —Do the militant organisations get damaged due to drone attacks?
    (Yes 60%, No 40%)[Farhat Taj/The News]

AIRRA claims that it “has been envisioned to remain independent, both ideologically and organizationally”. If the results any reflection of this vision, then they should deflate the displays of righteousness that Pakistani politicians put up, and indeed, weaken their hand while negotiating with their US counterparts.

Al Faida – how Pakistan milks the US and NATO

NATO’s supply route through Pakistan is a gravy train for the military establishment…and the Taliban

Western troops fighting in Afghanistan depend on the Karachi-Khyber-Kabul supply route for  70 to 80 percent of their needs. While its importance to US and NATO forces has received considerable coverage in recent months, there has been less attention given to its importance for Pakistan’s military establishment.

The National Logistics Corporation (or the National Logistics Cell, NLC) is an ostensibly civilian entity staffed by serving and retired military personnel, and owned by the Pakistani army. According to the February 2009 issue of the Herald, a Pakistani monthly, it charges NATO between 200,000 to 250,000 Pakistani rupees per container arriving at Karachi, and pays private truckers between 100,000 to 150,000 for moving them to Afghanistan. In other words it makes a neat 100,000 Pakistani rupees in middleman’s fees. Going by an average exchange rate of 65 Pakistani rupees to a US dollar, the NLC made around $1500 per container.  The number of  containers landing in Karachi daily has varied between 1000 in early 2002, to around 300 earlier this year. Taking the lower figure, the NLC made around $450,000 every day, or over $164 million each year. Between 2002-2008, the NLC made at least $1.15 billion. And the meter is still running.

The Frontier Constabulary, a paramilitary force, collects a minimum of $150 per container in security charges from truckers, which adds up to $115 million over 2002-2008. This money goes directly to the Pakistani military establishment and is in addition to the $10 billion that the Bush administration gave Pakistan over that period. [This analysis is based on the figures in Massoud Ansari’s “My Way, Not the Highway”, in Herald February 2009, and Jawwad Rizvi’s “Rs 90 million go in air daily” in The News January 28-29, 2009 (via PEW). Mr Rizvi adds that the NLC charges between 15,000 to 25,000 Pakistani rupees for “no objection certificates”]

That’s not all. Karachi port authorities made at least $260 per container in assorted port charges, or around $200 million over seven years. The Pakistani government collects a fuel tax of Rs 25 per litre of diesel. According to one estimate the average fuel consumption per container per trip is 1200 litres, which amounts to $460 in taxes per trip. Over seven years fuel tax revenues alone are to the tune of $350 million. So the ‘civilian’ government received at least $550 million in additional revenues from the exercise.

The truckers themselves make around $1900 per container, and made around $1.5 billion over the past seven years. Clearly, they didn’t keep all of this, having to pay off various government officials and militants. Some of the trucking companies could well have owners connected to the military establishment.

That’s not all, either: the ‘militants’ collected an average of $400 per container to let them pass through their territory. Over $300 million went into the their pockets.

That too is not all. For only around 60 percent of the goods were actually delivered to their recipients, the rest being lost, stolen or destroyed en route. A flourishing trade in US and NATO military equipment exists in the markets of Pakistani towns like Peshawar and Quetta. Everything from crates of alcohol to helicopter spares is on the block.

That’s a lot of al-Faida for the Pakistani economy and for the Pakistani military establishment—a rough estimate is around $500 million per year. The political economy around the supply route is likely to have created strong vested interests in ensuring that the gravy train does not stop. Yet the Pakistani military establishment is ready to put these benefits at risk—squeezing the route to exert pressure on the US and NATO in Afghanistan. So where are the clever Indian analysts who argued that transit revenues from the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline will prevent the Pakistani military from disrupting the natural gas flows to India?

Routes and regimes

…and the Indian wisdom concerning mangoes and trees

It is impossible to eschew sarcasm when you read that the alternative supply route through the Central Asian states “could leave the United States more reliant on cooperation from authoritarian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which have poor records when it comes to democracy and human rights.”

One would think that their current supply route runs through Canada.

The ridiculous routine of asking for evidence

…shouldn’t be taken seriously anymore

It is about time the Pakistani government—as indeed some of the country’s more enlightened newspaper editors—stopped this ridiculous business of asking for evidence and promising legal action. These demands may be a fig leaf to cover their own impotence against their military establishment, but they only have the effect of reinforcing the impression that the language of diplomacy is merely a frivolous sideshow when it comes to engaging Pakistan.

So if the good people of Pakistan want to begin to prove that their demand for ‘proper’ evidence is driven by bona fide concerns, here’s what they should do: extradite to India Dawood Ibrahim (a.k.a Sheikh, Dawood Hasan) against whom there is an outstanding Interpol red corner notice. It might even be in line with the late Benazir Bhutto’s promises.

If President Zardari and his government wish to be seen as credible interlocutors then it is about time they dispensed with this routine. If it fails to act forcefully against terrorists of various stripes that operate out of Pakistan, then it must be prepared to cede authority to an international coalition that will.

Related Posts: How evidence becomes credible.

Dear Mr Kristof

It’s 2008

You write (linkthanks Offstumped)

…we should push much harder for a peace deal in Kashmir—including far more pressure on India—because Kashmir grievances empower Pakistani militants. [NYT]

Now you are a perspicacious man. So it is baffling that you miss the point by a thousand kilometres. Because today Pakistani militants are far more empowered by Afghanistan, NWFP and Islamabad’s Red Mosque grievances than by anything else. Would you say that the United States should push for a peace deal in Afghanistan then?

Update: On his blog, Mr Kristof adds:

Many Indian readers are taking me to task over my suggestion that the U.S. put more pressure on Kashmir. Let me clarify that this is not just to “appease” Pakistan, but because India’s own behavior in Kashmir has often been shameful. Paying more attention to Kashmir and to human rights violations (in both Kashmirs) is not only geopolitically correct, but it’s also the right thing to do. Incidentally, I heard on this trip that Islamabad is now again allowing more Pakistani militants to infiltrate across the border into Indian Kashmir, which, if true, is a disaster that will aggravate Pakistani-Indian tensions and focus attention away from issues like education.[On the ground]

Mr Kristof ought to decide which problem he wishes to solve. Does he really mean to suggest that Pakistan sending terrorists across the border into Kashmir to set right human rights violations? It’s nearly headless, Nick!

Weekday Squib: Dispossession Certificate

If you are robbed by the Taliban, remember to ask for a receipt

If you thought that posing for photographs with hijacked US military Humvees was a nice touch, you will find this nicer.

Yet many expect raids on the convoys to continue. Rahmanullah, 28, said the attacks have become so commonplace in recent months and so costly for NATO suppliers that Taliban raiders have begun issuing receipts to drivers when they strike.

“The Taliban give us letters to give to the Americans that say that the Taliban has taken the truck, because otherwise no one would believe us and they would think we destroyed it ourselves,” Rahmanullah said. “No one would question a letter like this from the Taliban.” [NYT]

Now we’ve heard that before

The après moi le déluge routine

President Asif Zardari wants the world to bail Pakistan out—financially to the tune of US$100 billon—because, if he fails, Pakistan with its arsenal of 200 nuclear warheads could be toppled by al-Qaeda and its allies.

A remarkably familiar pitch it is. Until a few months ago, it was General Musharraf who was standing between Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and their takover by al-Qaeda radicals.

Well the truth is that bit about nuclear warheads is generally scare-mongering. So is that bit about al-Qaeda toppling governments (the slick, smooth-talking General Musharraf has been replaced by the slick, smooth-talking Mr Zardari). But the bit about a political crisis in Pakistan spilling over and causing problems for other countries is largely true.

To be fair to Mr Zardari, it is true that he is saying altogether new things, of a kind we’ve never heard from a Pakistani president or prime minister before. The questions are whether he really means it (he probably does) and whether that means anything (that’s the US$100 billion question).

Sovereignty vovereignty

..and violations thereof

Over at Five Rupees, Ahsan has an excellent take on the goings-on between the United States and Pakistan along the Durand line.

I should also stipulate for the record that the violation by the U.S. of Pakistan’s sovereignty—the notion that a state practices exclusive control of territory within its borders—in FATA is a red herring, for three reasons.

First, the Pakistani state’s sovereignty in the region since independence has been tenuous at best; the area has largely been left to its own devices under the stewardship of local- and district-level tribal governments.

Second, even if the preceding sentence was not true, Pakistan’s sovereignty in the region was chronologically and historically first violated by the Taliban, and not American drones and soldiers. Like virginity, sovereignty can logically only be violated once; once the Taliban established a quasi-parallel administration in the region, it became a political and legal reality that Pakistan does not lay claim to controlling the area.

Third, the uproar about sovereignty (concerning) American actions in the reigon in the last few weeks ignores the fact that the Americans have been doing this for well over two years now; it is only the fact that (a) it has become more overt, and (b) it is being done more frequently that seems to be the root of Pakistani anger. Neither (a) nor (b) have anything to do with the violation of sovereignty per se and have everything to do with the way the violation of sovereignty is conducted.

Irrespective of polito-legal questions of sovereignty, the fact remains that the status quo represents an extremely dangerous situation for the Pakistani state. Squeezed by the Americans to do more, by the Pakistani population to do less, and by the Taliban to do nothing, this high-wire balancing act is doomed to fail. The question, however, remains: on which side of the wire is Pakistan going to fall?[Five Rupees]

The Zardari dilemma (2)

Nuclear power to the rescue

For some good writing turn to Mohammed Hanif in The National (linkthanks Samanth Subramanian):

Every pundit in Pakistan has made a long to-do list for President Zardari: security, economy, electricity, flour prices, fuel prices and more security. No doubt the Americans – who made his presidency possible, and who, despite his democratic credentials, will be the final arbiters of his intelligence – have prepared their own list as well. He must fight their war on terror while convincing the people of Pakistan that American drones are randomly bombing the people of northern Pakistan for their own good. At the same time, Zardari must convey to the Americans that their Nintendo Wii-war, operated by remote control, does their own image no favours.

Perhaps with the Americans Zardari can try the argument presented to me by one man who wanted to sell me a three-bedroom house in Defence. In the middle of the usual haggling over the price, our discussion suddenly degenerated into a state-of-the-nation talk. “These are the worst times,” he admitted, “but give it another six months, and it will improve.

“The army will come in and clean up this mess. And the Americans can’t go on pushing us into a corner. We are a nuclear power, yaar,” he concluded triumphantly, “you are getting a cheap deal.”

I have not read much real estate literature, but surely this was the first time a nuclear device was mentioned to close a property sale. [The National]