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. Outside View: Pakistan 'Tail' Wags U.S. 'Dog'

'While Pakistan hoped to close the (nuclear proliferation) chapter by blaming it all on A.Q. Khan (pictured) and pardoning him, every open nuclear trail seems to be leading to Pakistan - be it from Libya, Iran or North Korea.'
by Kaushik Kapisthalam
Atlanta (UPI) Jan 04, 2005
In terms of America's global war on terror, no country is talked about more than Pakistan. After Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf made the fateful decision to abandon a policy of propping up the Taliban and insouciance if not support of al-Qaida, Pakistan has become the most feted ally in official circles in Washington.

America's embrace of Pakistan since 9/11 has included copious financial assistance, strong diplomatic support, helping Pakistan avoid paying the price for its nuclear proliferation activities and more recently rewarding Pakistan's military with big weapons systems along with the Major Non-NATO Ally military status.

All along, U.S. officials have zealously played Mother Hen to Pakistan, emphasizing that it is a vulnerable state justifying American protection.

Any pretensions of Pakistan's vulnerability however, were blown to smithereens in a recent media appearance by that country's new ambassador to Washington, Jehangir Karamat, at a recent event at the Brookings Institution, the think-tank where he once was a visiting scholar.

Karamat, who was Pakistan's army chief before Gen. Musharraf, made a blunt presentation to a full house of more than 300 South Asia watchers and journalists that essentially laid down Pakistan's terms for Pakistan's continued cooperation with America.

The ambassador started off by wiping the slate clean of Pakistan's past actions by declaring that policies such as "active interference and destabilization of Afghanistan" and "appeasement and political expediency with extremist religious elements" are history and that Pakistan has turned over a new leaf, calling it a "major strategic reorientation."

The ambassador made no mention of the resurgence of the various "banned" Pakistani jihadist groups under new names, nor did he talk about the various Taliban leaders who until recently were openly sponsoring cross-border attacks from their comfortable hideouts in Western Pakistani cities like Quetta and Peshawar.

As to the A.Q. Khan nuclear scandal, Karamat called it a "nuclear proliferation episode" and claimed that since then Pakistan has put in "strong custodial measures" and "foolproof accounting and audit arrangements" and that Pakistan is now providing "total cooperation" with the investigation of the "international network."

There was little mention of the reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as the large number of proliferation experts in America who have berated Pakistan's stonewalling of the nuclear investigators.

The New York Times, in its Dec. 26 edition, did a big story that quotes American officials attesting to Pakistan's non-cooperation in the nuclear investigation

Having sidestepped the question of Pakistan's unmet commitments, Karamat proceeded to lay down Pakistan's stipulations for an alliance with America to be successful.

Karamat gave a laundry list of areas where Pakistan wanted American assistance. Many independent observers were amazed at Karamat's repeated use of the word "must" when he spoke of what Pakistan expects from the United States.

Even allowing for his military background, many were stunned to hear Karamat dictate terms to Washington in such a direct manner. More than the demand list, observers say that the tone and the tenor of Karamat's speech indicated as to who holds the upper hand in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

Essentially what the ambassador postulated is that the United States must first and foremost take Pakistan's requirements seriously. Observers point out that America is already doing so.

For instance, soon after 9/11, Washington released $600 million in emergency funds to prevent Pakistan from going into loan default. The United States has since written off half of Pakistan's bilateral debt of over $3 billion.

Washington also persuaded the informal "Paris Club" lender nation alliance to reschedule a chunk of Pakistan's $38 billion bilateral debt under generous payment terms and cast a critical vote in the IMF to release a three-year poverty-reduction loan of $1.3 billion to Pakistan. Pakistan also subsequently received soft loans totaling around $400 million from the IMF.

A few months after 9/11, USAID renewed its programs in Pakistan to the tune of $500-700 million annually. As the operation in Afghanistan started, the Pentagon opened its checkbook to provide significant military assistance to Pakistan.

In 2002 alone, the total economic and military assistance was over $1.1 billion, according to the authoritative U.S. Overseas Loans & Grants "Greenbook."

The United States also made several trade concessions, such as the lowering of tariffs and quota restrictions on Pakistani textiles and by allowing a significant number of duty-free Pakistani goods to be exported to America under the General System of Preferences program.

The release of the 9/11-commission report in July 2004 added to the mix more reasons for the United States to keep Pakistan happy. The report, whose Pakistan recommendations were accepted in the recently passed Intelligence Reform Act, guarantee that the United States will provide Pakistan with long-term military and economic support at or above the current annual level of $700 million indefinitely.

But the ambassador, while acknowledging current support, made it clear that it was not enough. He stated that while the United States "must continue to give (Pakistan) access to international financial institutions ... Free Trade Agreement or alternative arrangements must give Pakistan's trade with the U.S. a boost."

While making it clear that the U.S. military support to date and the $1.2 billion weapons package announced recently are not enough, Karamat said Pakistan's "conventional defense capability must continue to be built up" by the United States because Pakistan cannot negotiate with India fairly because of an "unacceptable tilt in the balance of power."

Some experts point out that even though Pakistan has so far not received big weapons systems, the U.S. Department of Defense has already given enormous amounts of money and military assistance to Pakistan since 9/11.

The DoD is reportedly paying a monthly fee of more than $100 million for using Pakistan's military bases and facilities.

In addition, according to a source familiar with the DoD's disbursement of funds to Pakistan, the Pentagon actually paid Pakistan millions of dollars to increase patrolling of its porous borders with Afghanistan.

The Congressional Research Service, quoting Pentagon documents, says that Pakistan received military funding of $1.32 billion for January 2003 to September 2004, which was about a third of Pakistan's total defense expenditures during that timeframe.

Ambassador Karamat also expressed his annoyance that most American media and think-tank interested in Pakistan seems to be focused "what Pakistan did or did not do at a particular time in its 57-year history" and worried if "the idea is to never let Pakistan off the hook by constantly dredging up the past."

It was clear that one of the things the ambassador was referring to is the continuing nuclear proliferation scandal. While Pakistan hoped to close the chapter by blaming it all on A.Q. Khan and pardoning him, every open nuclear trail seems to be leading to Pakistan - be it from Libya, Iran or North Korea.

In fact, many American media reports and think-tank analyses point out that as then Army chief, Karamat himself may have been involved in the alleged nukes-for-missiles barter deal that Pakistan made with North Korea in the late 1990s.

After listing Pakistan's demands, Karamat said that Pakistan, for its part, will "continue to address U.S. concerns," as though that was a big concession.

Essentially, what the ambassador was saying is - "Don't bring up the past - Trust us when we say we have changed. Don't try to verify because if you do, it will trigger Pakistan's collapse - spewing out nukes and terrorists in all directions. To avoid a calamity just keep paying us rent in terms of aid and weapons, and we'll see what we can do to help you."

It may seem counterintuitive to many that Pakistan feels it has more leverage with the United States than the other way around. After all, America holds several levers like economic aid, military support and diplomatic influence over Pakistan. But what the latter has is a simple threat that overpowers any and all American power over Pakistan - its own viability.

Brookings' Stephen Cohen, one of the foremost South Asia experts who also co-hosted the Karamat event, expounds on this Pakistani tactic brilliantly in his new book "The Idea of Pakistan."

Cohen says that Pakistan's ruling elite, which he likens to an oligarchy, "is prone to much wishful thinking that something or someone will come to Pakistan's rescue because of its location."

If any outside power were to suggest dramatic changes in Pakistan's ways, the elites would see it as a threat. "Pakistan now negotiates with its allies and friends by pointing a gun to its own head," Cohen avers.

While some would point to the public opinion in Pakistan that the current government seems to be up against while supporting America's war on terror, Cohen states elsewhere that "America must also recognize that while Islamabad will claim that it is constrained by public opinion, the government over the years has shaped that opinion."

In other words, Pakistan's elites have over the years built up a public opinion that is so abhorrent to the American policymakers that they would pay any price to keep Pakistan's present dispensation in power - warts and all.

Even the recent strong electoral showing of the Islamic radicals was arranged by the Musharraf regime by rigging the system against moderates. Today that trend continues, with American policymakers simply paralyzed with fear whenever Musharraf throws up the "après moi le deluge" card.

Ambassador Karamat's coming-out party was just a logical extension of that trend.

Bilateral relations are shaped by leverage. After 9/11, America held an enormous leverage over Pakistan because the latter feared the wrath of an angry colossus, which could have as easily focused on Pakistan as it did on the Taliban.

As the 9/11 commission report pointed out in great detail, forensic analysis of al-Qaida's operations in the Afghan theater before 9/11 revealed copious amounts of Pakistani state's DNA.

But leverage, like political capital, is useless unless used quickly and efficiently. And leverage unused becomes an advantage for the other side.

Most South Asia experts suggest that the United States could and should use its enormous influence on Pakistan's establishment by insisting on accountability for the huge sums of aid Pakistan is receiving and calibrating the disbursement of monies based on the attainment of specific benchmarks. Congress could play the bad-cop to the executive branch's good-cop for this purpose.

Unfortunately, all the signs point against such a development. It now appears that the Pakistani military establishment is set to feed from a cornucopia of American financial aid and weapons for the foreseeable future, with only minimal commitments to meet in return.

This prospect is strengthened by the fact that Pakistan's establishment has been historically adept at finding out America's bottom line - be it communism or terrorism, and playing it to its advantage.

By overemphasizing what most experts agree is a small risk of Pakistan's collapse should America "push too hard," the United States is clearly letting the tail wag the dog in it's alliance with Pakistan. Without accountability, American aid may end up encouraging the same bad traits in Pakistan's government that it seeks to avoid.

Kaushik Kapisthalam is a freelance commentator on topics relating to South Asia. He can be reached at contact@kapisthalam.com

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