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.

Hitchens v Fair

The dangers of letting policy recommendations get ahead of objective assessment of facts

Over at the Huffington Post, C Christine Fair, an experienced, astute and bold analyst of Pakistan has rebutted Christopher Hitchens’ article on Pakistan in Vanity Fair. She faults Mr Hitchens for “the absurdities, fallacies and dubious assertions in the rest of his troubling account of Pakistan’s malaise.”

This is a critique of the critique.


Let me try to summarize and update the situation like this: Here is a society where rape is not a crime. It is a punishment. Women can be sentenced to be raped, by tribal and religious kangaroo courts, if even a rumor of their immodesty brings shame on their menfolk. In such an obscenely distorted context, the counterpart term to shame—which is the noble word “honor”—becomes most commonly associated with the word “killing.” Moral courage consists of the willingness to butcher your own daughter. [Vanity Fair]


The former refers to the rare, horrific instances where women and girls are subject to sexual assault by, in the words of the author, “tribal and religious kangaroo courts”…In this paragraph a complex polity of 180 million — most of whom condemn both practices — are essentialized as a barbarous people who embrace the notion that “moral courage consists of the willingness to butcher your own daughter. [Huffington Post]

Mr Hitchens does not generalise the support for honour killings to all 180 million people. “Here is a society where people fly in their own private jets” does not mean all 307 million US citizens have their own private jets. It is Ms Fair who stretches Mr Hitchens’s argument in an attempt to prove it wrong. In any case, she does not offer any evidence to show that most of the 180 million Pakistanis condemn these heinous practices.


Thus, President Asif Ali Zardari cringes daily in front of the forces who openly murdered his wife, Benazir Bhutto, and who then contemptuously ordered the crime scene cleansed with fire hoses, as if to spit even on the pretense of an investigation. A man so lacking in pride—indeed lacking in manliness—will seek desperately to compensate in other ways.


This offensive passage reveals more about the psychology of the author than it does about that of President Zardari.

Mr Hitchens is factually correct on Mr Zardari’s cringing to the forces that killed his wife. We can agree with Ms Fair that Hitchens’ interpretation of that fact reveals something about his psychology.


However, there is no evidence that the government of Pakistan — then under President Musharraf — ordered her death. In fact, the U.S. government has consistently claimed that elements of the Pakistan Taliban ordered her death.

Here Ms Fair is being selective with facts. Shortly before her death, Benazir Bhutto herself blamed General Musharraf for her murder by not providing her the requisite personal security. The UN investigation report conveys the unmistakeable impression that the military establishment is culpable. It is disingenuous of Ms Fair to suggest that “there’s no evidence” of official complicity, not least because few Pakistanis are likely to believe it. Citing the US government’s claims on this is neither here nor there. It even believes that Pakistan is a “major non-NATO ally”.


They hate us because they owe us, and are dependent upon us. The two main symbols of Pakistan’s pride—its army and its nuclear program—are wholly parasitic on American indulgence and patronage.


According to the USAID Green Book, in 2009, total economic assistance to Pakistan came to $1.35 billion and military assistance totaled $0.429 (for a grand sum of $1.78 billion). In 2009, Pakistan’s gross domestic product was $162 billion. Calling this is a dependency is an obvious stretch. (In fairness, I too have been guilty of lapsing into this idiom until I crunched the numbers.)

Again, Ms Fair is being selective with facts. According to the US Congressional Research Service, direct overt aid to Pakistan was to the tune of $20.7 billion for the period 2002-2011. In 2009, the year Ms Fair quotes, CRS analysts estimate direct overt US aid to Pakistan at $3 billion. Further comparing it to Pakistan’s GDP is misleading. It is far more meaningful to see what the aid is in proportion of the Pakistani government’s budget. In 2010, the Pakistani government spent around $29 billion. US aid for the year was around $4.46 billion—that’s around 15% of Pakistani government’s budget.

Ms Fair refers to Israel. Its 2009 budget was $92 billion. Using Ms Fair’s figure for US aid to Israel ($2.43 billion) it amounts to a mere 2.6% of the Israeli government’s budget. It’s unclear at what level we can say a country is dependent on US aid, but Pakistan is certainly more dependent than Israel. That said, the reference to Israel is irrelevant. If we are to accept that Israel is dependent on the United States, it hardly means that Pakistan doesn’t. We should therefore treat Ms Fair’s allusion to Israel as gratuitous.


Everybody knew that the Taliban was originally an instrument for Pakistani colonization of Afghanistan. Everybody knew that al-Qaeda forces were being sheltered in the Pakistani frontier town of Quetta, and that Khalid Sheikh Muhammed was found hiding in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Pakistani Army.


Mr. Hitchens of course takes refuge again in the passive voice to avoid saying precisely who sheltered al Qaeda. It would appear that the author has confused al Qaeda (an international terrorist organization) and the Afghan Taliban (a regressive Pashtun-dominated Deobandi insurgent organization presently focused upon the international occupation of Afghanistan). The former has not been harbored by the Pakistani state while the latter has been a long-standing client.

Ms Fair has a point on Hitchens’ use of the passive voice. It is not clear “who” was doing the sheltering. We can’t say for sure but he’s probably wrong on al-Qaeda being sheltered in Quetta. It is the shura of Mullah Omar’s Taliban outfit that is being sheltered there, evidently, by the Pakistani military establishment. This outfit is involved in killing US soldiers in Afghanistan. But does this materially change Hitchens’ argument that the “lapdog’s surreptitious revenge has consisted in the provision of kennels for attack dogs?” Not quite.


Mr Hitchens next describes his own shock that “Osama bin Laden himself would be given a villa in a Pakistani garrison town on Islamabad’s periphery.” Dodging again behind the passive tense, he offers no evidence for this reckless and dangerous assertion. In contrast to Mr. Hitchens, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said that he had seen evidence that suggested Pakistan’s senior officials were unaware of bin Laden’s whereabouts. Hitchens’ claim that the state sheltered Pakistan is feckless journalism that encourages further ignorant speculation among publics who have no real understanding of the other and their governments.

Here Ms Fair is asking us to believe that Osama bin Laden lived in Abbottabad for five years without knowledge and connivance of the Pakistani military leadership and further, to take Robert Gates’ word for it. Perhaps a wee bit of scepticism is in order. Credulous journalism is as bad, if not worse, than feckless journalism.

The use of the term “Pakistani state” to discharge the Pakistani establishment of complicity is a device that has outlived its plausibility. The Pakistani state is always innocent because it is merely putative. It’s the military-jihadi complex that rules the place. It is understandable why US officials might want to exonerate their Pakistani ‘allies’ to save the alliance. That doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to swallow that line.

Where Ms Fair is on a stronger wicket is in her analysis of the US-Pakistan relationship. As she puts it: “Navigating this strained relationship under the pressures of reality is hard enough.” However her last couple of sentences offer a clue as to why as talented an analyst as she is selective with facts in this article: “However, accounts like that of Hitchens and others here and in Pakistan, dims the prospects for salvaging a relationship that is extremely important for the United States if not for Pakistan. And one has to wonder if that’s not the very goal of such fact-free musings.”

Ms Fair has allowed her opinion of what ought to happen to the relationship to get in the way of full objectivity. In so doing, she ends up being guilty of the same failings she accuses Mr Hitchens of.

This blog’s biases are clear: The Acorn sees the Pakistani military-jihadi complex as the irreconcilable source of threats to India, the United States, the international community, and indeed, to Pakistan. It must be contained and dismantled. Cutting off US aid to Pakistan is a good way to get there.

To the extent that exonerating ‘Pakistan’ also exonerates the military-jihadi complex, doing so is a bad idea. On the balance, therefore, Mr Hitchens provides a narrative that is far more useful in the project of containing and dismantling the military-jihadi complex.

Why General Kayani is angry

Understanding the Pakistani military establishment’s objections to the Kerry-Lugar conditionalities

If it’s hard to determine the exact cause of the uproar in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar Bill, it is because there are many. Simply put, every quarter in Pakistan is using it as a stick to beat its opponents. While all the outrage over being insulted (via Zeitgeist Politics), having sovereignty disrespected and being distrusted by the United States contributes to the heat, dust and entertainment, the most important question is why did the Pakistan Army—and there were reports that the navy and the air force differed from their terrestrial colleagues—publicly throw up its hands in protest?

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and his senior colleagues cited “serious concern regarding clauses relating to national security” and suggested that the parliament must shape a “national response.” So what were they referring to?

The sticking points most commonly cited in the public debate over the Kerry-Lugar Bill in Pakistan are the ones attached to action against cross-border terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Now, the Pakistan army is certainly concerned about US scrutiny and pressure over these issues, but it is unlikely that these issues by themselves would cause the generals to raise the red flag. They’ve slipped out of this ring in the past, and they can do so in future.

It is more likely that the military establishment made its move because of other conditions in the Bill that seek to alter the civil-military relationship in Pakistan: by increasing development assistance, by conditioning military assistance, among others, on civilian control of the armed forces. The ambit of civilian control extends to matters like promotions of officers to senior ranks. As INI co-blogger Dhruva Jaishankar (in an email) and Pakistani blogger Kalsoom astutely point out (via Changing Up Pakistan), behind General Kayani’s missive lies the military establishment’s refusal to accept a civilian straitjacket.

There are reports in the Pakistani media about some individuals linked to the PPP government and to President Asif Ali Zardari personally played a role in encouraging the US Congress to include such terms. The insinuation is that Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, was among those responsible. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Reining in the rogue military establishment is in the interests of the PPP government, and in most countries, would be considered legitimate.

The corps commanders have clearly drafted their statement carefully. Not only does it register their opposition to accepting aid under the terms of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, it also suggests that it is the parliament—not the Zardari government, which is the executive—that should make the decision.

Neither General Kayani nor the military establishment are hurt politically if Pakistan rejects the Kerry-Lugar assistance. The prevailing schizophrenia among the public over Pakistan’s role in sponsoring international terrorism and rampant anti-Americanism will probably make them more popular. And if the Pakistan economy goes into a tailspin, it will be the Zardari government that takes the rap.

This should signal to the Obama administration that its biggest problem in AfPak is Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex. The message from Washington should be “take it or leave it.”

Americans just want to be loved

And they’ll pay for it

“The aid—and particularly its pledge of five years of uninterrupted help—is intended,” the New York Times writes in today’s editorial, “to demonstrate that this time Washington is in for the long haul. Many Pakistanis still accuse the Americans of using and then abandoning them after the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. We fear that any more delay on the promised assistance would only reinforce that suspicion and bitterness.”

Astounding naivete from the NYT, because Washington has already delivered seven years of uninterrupted help amounting to US$15.449 billion in direct overt assistance (according to Alan Kronstadt/CRS) and yet, almost 6 in 10 Pakistanis feels that the United States is the greatest threat to their country (according to Al Jazeera/Gallup).

Unwarranted as their fear is, it leads the NYT’s editors to throw diligence through the winds. Arguing against attaching strings to the aid package in a hopeless attempt to be loved it warns against “bullying language on Pakistan’s nuclear program that would inevitably increase tensions with Islamabad and alienate the Pakistani public.” But isn’t nuclear proliferation something that it should care about? “We, too, are very concerned about Pakistan’s history of nuclear proliferation” it says, “But this aid bill is clearly not the vehicle.” Then pray, what is?

The editorial is silent about the real issues: how does the United States ensure that Pakistan delivers on its many promises on fighting al-Qaeda, fighting the Taliban, fighting the Lashkar-e-Taiba, preventing nuclear proliferation? How does the US government ensure that the money is spent on reforming education, healthcare and economic development?

This kind of loose thinking is perhaps symptomatic of the general mood in the United States these days: just throw more taxpayers’ money at the problem and hope it’ll go away.

My op-ed in Outlook: The buck yes, but where’s the bang

Union Budget 2009 and what it means for foreign affairs and defence

In the July 20th issue of Outlook magazine I point out that the Budget has the good, the bad and the ugly for strategic affairs. An edited version of the following appeared in print.

First the good: the UPA government used the Union Budget to strengthen India’s leverage in Sri Lanka by setting aside Rs 500 crore for the rehabilitation of the Tamils displaced by war. It has increased the foreign aid outlay for Nepal to Rs 238 crore, set aside Rs 125 crores for Mongolia and increased outlays for African and Eurasian countries by various amounts. This is in addition to sustaining the massive assistance to Bhutan (Rs 961 crore) and Afghanistan (Rs 442 crore). The foreign ministry’s overall budget has been increase by 24%, which should help Indian missions raise the game in foreign capitals.

Similarly, the increased outlays in several areas under broad rubric of national security—including defence, police, paramilitary forces, space and atomic energy—should be useful in securing the nation in an increasingly volatile geopolitical environment. The allocation of between 2% to 3% of GDP (depending on how defence expenditure is defined) even while massively expanding social sector expenditure programmes assigns substantial resources for defence while sending a signal of the size and strength of the Indian economy.

India, in its own conservative way, appears to be strengthening its diplomatic and military capacity in line with its status as an emerging power.

But only partly, because there is the bad. Continue reading “My op-ed in Outlook: The buck yes, but where’s the bang”

The time to drop barriers to trade with Pakistan

…is now

Pakistan’s economy is in a tailspin. Since the second last thing that the international community wants in Pakistan is an economic meltdown, Friends of Pakistan are coming together to provide emergency foreign aid.

Now how Pakistan’s western and Middle Eastern ‘friends’ want to spend their money is their call. For India’s part, this is an excellent opportunity to liberalise bilateral trade, unilaterally if necessary. That’s why the Manmohan Singh-Asif Zardari meeting falls short: it just doesn’t go far enough on free trade.

Just how is Pakistan going to ‘export more’ and ‘import less’ in the medium term unless it expands trade with India? While there is some awareness in Pakistan that it will always need to rely on the charity of its ‘friends’ unless it normalises its relations with India, the fact that such charity comes rather easily creates disincentives for Pakistan to drop its self-defeating approach to bilateral trade. Perhaps some ‘friendly’ advice is in order.

India’s foreign aid budget

More for Bhutan and Afghanistan, less for ‘other developing countries’

Here is a chart showing outlays for ‘technical and economic cooperation with other countries and advances to foreign governments’, allocated to the foreign ministry.

There are new allocations for Afghanistan, and an increase in allocations for Bhutan. There’s a modest increase for Sri Lanka and Africa. But allocations for ‘other developing countries’ (ODC in the chart above) have been cut. India appeared to have disbursed less that what was budgeted for Myanmar, and this year’s allocations are lower. There was an unplanned increase in assistance to Bangladesh last year—quite likely due to emergency assistance for flood relief—but the outlay this year is almost the same.

India delivers food aid to North Korea

Winning friends and influencing people in Pyongyang

North Korea’s official news agency reports that India has delivered the first shipment of an unspecified amount of food aid to that country.

Indian Ambassador to Pyongyang Zile Singh and North Korean officials were present in a presentation ceremony at Nampho Port, it said. [Yahoo/Xinhua]

Who says foreign policy can’t be hopeful?