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US Military Assistance to Pakistan and Geo-politics

The military assistance of the United States of America to Pakistan has undergone a shift since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Concerns about nuclear proliferation and withdrawal of Soviet Union from Russia at the end of Cold War diminished Pakistan’s importance in the eyes of the United States of America. Bilateral military cooperation accelerated during the Bush and Musharraf administration in the USA and Pakistan respectively. In 2006, the sale of arms from USA to Pakistan rocketed; nearly matching total purchases by Pakistan from the USA during the fifty years prior to 2001. Now since Pakistan’s tribal areas are serving as a base of operations of Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the USA is trying to strengthen its bonds with Pakistan. However, what is worry-some about the bonds is the covert military operations by the USA in Pakistan along the border of Afghanistan (including revelations of possible ground raids by US (Special Operations Forces), Pakistan’s instability and Islamabad’s record on terrorism. USA was concerned about the expansionism’s of Russia in Pakistan post its independence in 1947. Pakistan wanted security assistance because it perceived threat from India. This perceived threat prompted military alliance between the two. In 1954, a mutual defense assistance agreement was signed between Washington and Islamabad. This led to military aid flowing into Pakistan. Further, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 brought the military and the intelligence agencies of the United States and Pakistan into a partnership. Along with Saudi Arabia, they worked covertly to support the Afghan resistance, the Mujahadeen, against the Soviet Union throughout the 1980s. This alliance rolled in 1988 with the Soviet Union’s withdrawal. In October 1990, the USA blocked the delivery of its fighter jets to protest Pakistan’s then undeclared nuclear weapons programme; Pakistan’s nuclear test in 1998 brought a wave of sanctions from Washington afresh. Then, the end of Cold War brought about certain geopolitical changes which led Washington to grow intimate with India. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011 shifted relations once again which made Pakistan among the United States’ top recipients of foreign military assistance.


The factional fighting in Afghanistan in the 1990s kept Afghanistan in a state of turmoil, Pakistan supported the rise of a group known as the Taliban because Pakistan wanted a friendly government that controlled most of Afghanistan. But the Taliban boosted Al-Qaeda as well. Following the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that followed, leaders of Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, along with other terrorist groups, fled across the border into Pakistan and made its Federally Administered Tribal Areas their new home.


Reportedly, in the three years after the 9/11 attacks, military aid to Pakistan from the Coalition Support Fund, created after the attacks to assist US allies in the global fight against terrorism, was nearly $ 3 billion, ten times the amount received by Poland, the second-highest recipient of cash from the fund. However, a June 2008 report from the US Government Accountability Office found widespread accounting irregularities with Pentagon spending.


Today, more than 85 thousand Pakistani troops remain deployed along the Afghan border. While the military has captured over 700 Al-Qaeda operatives within its borders, experts say it has made no significant victories against the Taliban and other groups. US-Pakistan military cooperation has proven ineffective in tribal areas. Islamabad has deployed its Frontier Corps—a Pakistani paramilitary organisation that operates in the autonomous tribal areas—to target insurgents. Local language skills and familiarity with the local terrain have given the corps an advantage. However, reportedly, the Frontier Corps is inadequately trained and equipped for counter-insurgency operations in Federally Administered Tribal Areas because the corps was used to train the Taliban in the 1990s and many are suspected of having ties to that organisation.


Washington has funded a programme to transform Pakistan’s Frontier Corps into an effective counter balance against terrorist elements. But an errant US air strike in June 2008 that killed 11 Frontier Corps soldiers infuriated the Pakistani military and jeopardised the training effort. Another approach taken by past and present Pakistani governments is to sign peace agreements with tribal leaders which has only strengthened up the militants.


In January 2008, the United States’ top intelligence officials traveled to Islamabad to request permission to hunt down militants in Pakistan. The request was rebuffed by the then President Musharraf. A report says that three Predators are said to be deployed at a secret Pakistani airbase and can be launched without specific permission from the Islamabad government. Pakistan officially denies that the planes exist, the reports of operational successes inside the country suggest US presence in the tribal areas. Debates over Washington’s covert tactics inside Pakistan’s tribal region took on new significance with a September 11, 2008 report by the New York Times detailing secret orders signed by President Bush allowing for unilateral ground assaults.


Washington’s support for former President Musharraf has left the USA without much support within Pakistan. Within six months after the civilian leadership took over, Musharraf was forced to resign and hence the bonds between the two countries began shaking. Despite ongoing criticism, US military and intelligence officials have gone out of their way to praise the United States’ military-to-military relationship with Pakistan. Yet long time observers of the delicate partnership say events in 2008 like the June air strike, Pakistan’s February elections and reports of American ground assaults, have increased tensions and strained the alliance.


The Geostrategic importance of Pakistan due to Geopolitics of International Relations was visible in the period of Cold War. Past data shows that the amount of foreign debt taken in by the governments has been substantial but there have been significant volatility in US bilateral aid inflows over the years. US has given more priority to its own foreign policy objectives rather than any other factor; even the move towards a better democracy by Pakistan, has not been significantly rewarded. As per evidence, the exit of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan resulted in assistance from the US being cut down to a bare minimum level. Such was the case till the war against Terrorism’s origin in 2001 where Pakistan had, once again, come of geopolitical significance for the US who wanted its alliance. Aid levels rose again to heights previously seen during the Cold War. As the agenda had become the fight against terrorism, the presence of a military ruler in the recipient country did not seem to have an importance. However, economic importance is not instrumental in this case. Such volatility of Foreign Aid may have serious outcomes for the recipient country in form of lack of sustainability of economic growth and the external sector of the economy. Geopolitical importance of Pakistan with regard to the geopolitics of International relations, the US political regime and the trade openness of Pakistan are among the significant factors determining the size of bilateral aid from the US. There is an open belief that foreign aid is used to strengthen the donor’s national security. For countries that have the agenda of global domination, strategic interests are vital in foreign aid allocations. In US’ case, specifically, these trends came about in the form of Security partnerships with nations that were willing to join the US in its goal to curtail communism.

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