The Bush Administration is contributing significantly to the militarization of South Asia. In pursuit of its War on Terror, the Bush Administration has been subsidizing General Musharraf and his military as they continue to cling to power in Pakistan. Pakistan is most definitely not a poster child for Mr. Bush's "Freedom Agenda". Yet it is a poster child for everything that is wrong with Mr. Bush's War on Terror.
The Bush Administration funds 20% of Pakistan's military budget by writing big monthly checks to the Pakistan military. That American largesse is ostensibly to reimburse Pakistan for its expenses in the War on Terror. However, in reality the money flows regardless of any work Pakistan actually performs in support of Mr. Bush's war. Today's New York Times reports:
The United States is continuing to make large payments of roughly $1 billion a year to Pakistan for what it calls reimbursements to the country’s military for conducting counterterrorism efforts along the border with Afghanistan, even though Pakistan’s president decided eight months ago to slash patrols through the area where Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are most active.
The monthly payments, called coalition support funds, are not widely advertised. Buried in public budget numbers, the payments are intended to reimburse Pakistan’s military for the cost of the operations. So far, Pakistan has received more than $5.6 billion under the program over five years, more than half of the total aid the United States has sent to the country since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, not counting covert funds.
Some American military officials in the region have recommended that the money be tied to Pakistan’s performance in pursuing Al Qaeda and keeping the Taliban from gaining a haven from which to attack the government of Afghanistan. American officials have been surprised by the speed at which both organizations have gained strength in the past year.
But Bush administration officials say no such plan is being considered, despite new evidence that the Pakistani military is often looking the other way when Taliban fighters retreat across the border into Pakistan, ignoring calls from American spotters to intercept them. There is also at least one American report that Pakistani security forces have fired in support of Taliban fighters attacking Afghan posts.
Pakistan, a nation under arms, spends about 28% of its current expenditure budget on its military. As Pakistan's despot, General Pervez Musharraf, tries desperately to rig the upcoming "elections" to stay in power, the concern in Washington is that if the Musharraf government falls there will be an Islamist takeover of Pakistan. This rationale is used to justify the large monthly money transfers to the Pakistan military:
The administration, according to some current and former officials, is fearful of cutting off the cash or linking it to performance for fear of further destabilizing Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is facing the biggest challenges to his rule since he took power in 1999.
The concern over an Islamist takeover is fueled by Musharraf to continue to curry favor with the West. The Los Angeles Times reports today:
President Pervez Musharraf acknowledged that Islamic militancy was increasing across Pakistan and said tough measures were needed to fight it.
"We need to strongly counter it," Musharraf said in an interview aired late Friday by the private Aaj television channel.
If the rhetoric from Musharraf sounds familiar, it should. It is thesame rhetoric used by the White House to continue to justify ongoing operations in Iraq. In both cases the status quo, the continued military occupation in the case of Iraq and the military rule in the case of Pakistan, fuels Islamist militancy and in both cases failure of the status quo is deemed unacceptable for fear of an Islamist takeover.
However, while in case of Iraq the resentment to American occupation creates a fertile ground for Islamist militants, in Pakistan the Islamist militants have active support from elements of the Pakistan military. Their rise during military rule in Pakistan is no accident. They are both used by the military to stay in power and used by the military as an excuse to scare foreign benefactors to maintain power.
The Pakistani military has a long history of patronizing Islamists. The military consolidates its power in Pakistan by squeezing out legitimate and moderate political voices and stifling any remnants of a democratic culture. It finds a natural ally in Islamists such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Taliban. It was, after all, the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq who promulgated the Hudood Ordinance that instituted Sharia Law in Pakistan. It was Pakistan's powerful Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that brought the Taliban to power in Afghanistan. There are elements in the military and ISI who continue to actively support and protect the Taliban as well as Islamist militants within Pakistan. Today's New York Times article has this bit of unsettling news:
Two American analysts and one American soldier said Pakistani security forces had fired mortars shells and rocket-propelled grenades in direct support of Taliban ground attacks on Afghan Army posts. A copy of an American military report obtained by The New York Times described one of the attacks.
"Enemy supporting fires consisting of heavy machine guns and R.P.G.’s were provided by two Pakistani observation posts," said the report, referring to rocket-propelled grenades. The grenades killed one Afghan soldier and ignited an ammunition fire that destroyed the observation post, according to the report. It concluded that "the Pakistani military actively supported the enemy assault" on the Afghan post.
A second American analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said American soldiers had told him that Pakistani forces supported Taliban ground attacks with mortar fire and rocket-propelled grenades at least two dozen times in 2005 and 2006. Senior American military officials said that they had not heard of the incidents, but added that Pakistani tribal militia, not Pakistani soldiers, could be supporting the Taliban attacks.
It should surprise no one that the Pakistani military offers support to Taliban and Islamist militants. It should shock everyone that our tax dollars are paying for this support.
The most likely scenario in Pakistan if Musharraf falls is not an Islamist takeover. The most likely scenario is a coup by other enterprising generals. The Islamists will remain, as they always have, junior partners to the military in Pakistan. The real question is whether the United States should continue to fund this cozy arrangement. We the taxpayers should ask if this is money well spent.
[Cross posted at my blog.]