21 July 2018 - 05:56 PM
What Impact Has US Foreign Policy Had On Pakistan?
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Land Of Contradictions

The United States has a longstanding relationship with Pakistan. At the beginning of the Cold War, the United States strategically allied with Pakistan. The South Asian country maintained its distance from the Soviet Union, unlike India.

A street decorated with flags of political parties ahead of Pakistan's general elections, in the Lyari neighborhood of Karachi.

In a geopolitical climate that seemed unfavorable at the time, the United States first began forging those ties through the 1954 ‘Mutual Defense’ security agreement. Soon after, the United States gave Pakistan nearly US$2.5 billion in economic aid and US$700 million in military assistance.

"Pakistan became America's protégé, firmly supporting its fight to contain Communism," writes Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker. The benefits for Pakistan soon became apparent: during the 1960s, its economy was exemplary. India, by contrast, became a byword for 'basket case.'

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Fifty years later, what was the result of the experiment? Pakistan had produced some of the world's most powerful terrorist groups, destined to set their sights on the United States.

"Pakistan... is one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and a covert sponsor of terrorism," Wright concludes. "Politically and economically, it verges on being a failed state.

"And despite Pakistani avowals to the contrary, America's worst enemy, Osama bin Laden, had been hiding there for years – in strikingly comfortable circumstances – before U.S. commandos finally tracked him down and killed him.

"It would be a mistake not to examine the degree to which U.S. dollars have undermined our strategic relationship with Pakistan – and created monstrous contradictions within Pakistan itself."

Demand-Driven Assistance

Christine Fair, a South Asia expert with the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, says some of the U.S. aid did help alleviate issues with poverty and education in Pakistan.

"The original model for economic assistance was 'demand driven' – local groups or governments proposed projects and applied for grants," Fair told the New Yorker. "Aid usually came in the form of matching funds, so that grantees had a stake in the projects.

"Moreover, American specialists presided over the disbursement of these funds and served as managers. That was effective, but we haven't done it for decades."

The year 1979 was a crucial one for Pakistan. With the Cold War peaking, the Soviet 40th Army sent troops to Afghanistan in December to bolster the communist government of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) against a growing insurgency.

That same year, U.S. intelligence had discovered that Pakistan was working on building its own uranium-rich facility in response to India's nuclear-weapons program.

In April, 1979, Pakistan's then military dictator, General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, had ousted and hanged civilian President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and canceled elections.

Forging Ties With Islam

General Zia-ul-Haq also forged ties with fledgling Islamist groups operating in the region, one being Jamaat-e-Islami.

Inflamed by unconfirmed reports the United States and Israel were behind an attack at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, members of Jamaat-e-Islami burned the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to the ground, killing two Pakistani and two U.S. employees.

With a visible Soviet Union presence in Afghanistan, the United States was moved to intervene. Then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter wanted to send US$400 million in economic and military aid to Pakistan, but the head of the armed forces dismissed the offer as "peanuts."

The administration of Ronald Reagan, however, later sent US$3 billion in economic assistance and US$3 billion in military aid, paying a matching sum to Afghan jihadis. 

"These funds went through the sticky hands of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, the spy branch of the Pakistani Army," Wright says. "Starting in 1987, the ISI was headed by General Hamid Gul, a cunning and bitterly anti-American figure.

"The ISI became so glutted with power and money that it formed a 'state within a state,' in the words of Benazir Bhutto, who became Pakistan's prime minister in 1988. She eventually fired Gul, fearing that he was engineering a coup."

A Pawn In US Hands

For decades, the U.S. government has been sending 'security aid' which not only complicates Pakistan's relations with its neighbors, but also creates a fragile political milieu. Military leaders have deemed themselves all-powerful, ousting civil leaders and pushing the country into turmoil.

But as recently as 2009, the United States said "military aid had given the Army and the ISI disproportionate power in Pakistan." It then tried to sanction "seven and a half billion dollars in civilian assistance, to be disbursed over a period of five years."  

Pakistan's foreign minister at the time, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, then flew to Washington to insist his country would not be micromanaged.

Trump, unlike his predecessors, has chosen to largely ignore Pakistan, noting only how little it has done to ward off 'terrorism' and saying most of the U.S. aid sent to prevent terrorism has gone to waste.

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On January 1, 2018, Trump accused Pakistan of "nothing but lies and deceit," alluding to the US$30 billion in aid sent as part of the U.S. so-called 'War on Terror.'

"The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than US$33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit," Trump said.

"They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!" Days later, Trump slashed the US$1.3 billion in security aid earmarked for Pakistan.

Pakistan Addresses Trump

Pakistan was quick to respond. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told Trump: "You carried out 57,800 attacks on Afghanistan from our bases; your forces were supplied arms and explosives through our soil; thousands of our civilians and soldiers became victims of the war initiated by you.

"We considered your enemy as our own, we filled the Guantanamo Bay, we served you with such an enthusiasm that we left our country with load shedding and gas shortages.

"We tried to please you on the cost of our economy; we provided tens of thousands of visas, as a result of which the networks of Blackwater spread across our country."

Trump's affinity for Saudi Arabia is no secret. According to some analysts, his position on Pakistan could in fact be a strategic move to appease the Saudis. And then there is India and Afghanistan, which have long lobbied for an end to U.S. security aid.

Rafia Zakaria, an attorney and author of 'The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan,' told Al Jazeera: "In the past few months, no country has done this better than Saudi Arabia, whose rulers delighted Trump on his maiden presidential voyage by projecting giant pictures of him on tall Riyadh buildings and treating him like the monarch he imagines himself to be. While U.S. presidents have always been close to Saudi Arabia, this level of love is certainly not the norm."

January 2018 wasn't the first time the United States has withdrawn aid from Pakistan, but there are fears the move could force Pakistan to seek funds from other sources, Saudi Arabia included.

"Few have considered the possibility that it may be one of these other allies that may have persuaded the United States to ditch Pakistan in an effort to make the latter more dependent on them," says Zakaria. "One likely suspect for this role would be Saudi Arabia, whose close connections to the Trump administration are well known and which would benefit from increased Pakistani dependence."

As Pakistan prepares to head to the polls on July 25, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has decried the "blatant, aggressive and unabashed attempts to manipulate the outcome of the upcoming elections." And in a recent interview with the BBC, Hameed Haroon, CEO of the Dawn Media Group, accused Pakistan's military of an “unprecedented assault" on press freedom.

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