Jun 032008

The Congress, the State Department, and the US Office of Management and Budget all seem to favour tying future aid to specific counterterrorism programs, rather than general military support to Pakistan

It is said that history is an invaluable teacher. The ongoing state of affairs in our part of the world certainly seems to lend credence to this statement. Consider for example what happened to this geo-strategic area nearly two decades ago when a major proxy war of the Cold-war era ended.

There was an almost immediate loss of interest in the fate of the holy warriors, and of their minders across the border in Pakistan, who had helped the US achieve the status of the only superpower in the world.

What then happened to these holy warriors to turn them against their original patrons during two decades of neglect is nothing short of a twist of fate. However, the ‘war against terrorism’ has since been launched, which has again brought billions of dollars of aid not only to Afghanistan, but to Pakistan as well.

This time around though, aid has been given to quell the mutated resistance which had helped drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. While the ensuing conflict has shown little sign of abatement yet, there are growing signs of waning US interest in supporting Pakistan, its ‘key ally’ in the fight ‘against terror’.

While it is a bit premature to speak about impacts of the withdrawal of US support, let us for now take a closer look at why, and how, the US seems to be losing interest in Pakistan, once again.

On the one hand, the US President has reiterated his support for the abating Pakistan Presidency, and our new Prime Minister has also just met and requested Mr Bush to increase economic and defence assistance for Pakistan’s newly-elected democratic government as part of a ‘democracy dividend’.

On the other hand, however, the Democrats are becoming increasingly sharp in their questioning of the US aid program to Pakistan. The International Herald Tribune has recently cited many senior US officials contending that the ‘coalition support funds’ being given to Pakistan to carry out anti-terrorism operations are not delivering results.

It has supposedly become very difficult for the US government to determine if the money is being spent wisely due to concerns about vague accounting, disputed expenses, and suspicions about over-billing.

Given this brewing controversy, The Washington Post took a closer look at how the coalition support funds are being released. Until before the general elections at least, Pakistan’s Defence Ministry was delivering 15 to 20 pages of spreadsheets to the US Embassy in Islamabad monthly, listing costs for feeding, clothing, billeting and maintaining 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistani troops in the tribal areas, in support of US counterterrorism efforts.

After a preliminary review, these spreadsheets are passed on by the US Embassy to US Central Command in Florida, where officials further evaluate claims and recommend reimbursement.

The bills then go on to the Pentagon, for a third review, which takes about five weeks. It is only at this stage that the bills are sent to the Office of Management and Budget, but this is where US officials have expressed the most concern about poor documentation. However this is a processing stage where not much can practically be done to contest the submitted bills. The undersecretaries of defence and state thus formally concur that the operations are consistent with US policy, subsequent to which the Pentagon notifies the four Senate and House defence oversight committees. And, if no congressional holds are issued within 15 days, the Pentagon issues a cheque to the Pakistan government five days later.

Although the Bush administration has acknowledged some problems with this procedure, it still maintains that support to Pakistan is worth every penny. Further elaborating this sentiment,The Washington Post even quoted an unnamed US official who asserts that since Pakistan is said to have a legacy of corruption, it may be billing the US $5 billion for providing services worth only $4 billion. However he went on to maintain that this level of over-billing was not worth contesting given Pakistan’s irreplaceable input in pursuit of a top US security objective.

Yet due to the building pressure within its own government, the Bush administration has however recently begun to scrutinise Pakistan’s bills more closely. The US also rejected a bill submitted by the Pakistani Navy for building roads and tracks. A congressional oversight subcommittee has also been set up, and the Government Accountability Office has released a preliminary report which maintains that Pakistan has been unable to defeat terrorists inside its borders, despite the influx of US cash, since Pakistani security forces aren’t structured to target insurgencies.

Perhaps this finding can be interpreted as the need for more equipment and training support. However, the Pakistan government is reassessing its strategy in the tribal areas, which will further complicate the situation, and probably, increase the hesitancy of US policymakers.

The Congress, the State Department, and the US Office of Management and Budget all seem to favour tying future aid to specific counterterrorism programs, rather than general military support to Pakistan. But some officials are still arguing that adding further conditions would be a mistake at this crucial juncture, which may nudge Pakistan to actually reduce its level of cooperation.

Given these ongoing contentions, one wonders what the reaction of our own government should be, which is itself not new to such speculations. Instead of waiting for a US decision, our government should try for once to be more proactive in demonstrating the utilisation of incoming funds. This vigilance could be coordinated with the US Embassy within Pakistan itself. If the US authorities lack the capacity for undertaking this responsibility until the accounting procedure has reached a stage and location where no real verifications can take place, then let the burden of accountability rest on the US, instead of Pakistan.

Moreover, being proactive need not remain confined to demonstrating use of coalition support funds, but should particularly be extended to reporting on the use of the incoming aid, which will in fact prove to yield more beneficial results on the ground. After all, in this discussion about the procedures and contentions concerning the coalition support funds, the resulting implications of US funded military operations in Pakistan have not even been mentioned.

The writer is a researcher. He can be contacted at ali@policy.hu

courtesy: Daily Times, 3/6/2008

 Posted by at 7:00 am

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