By E. Candace Putnam, CFR.org
The fact that Osama bin Laden hid in Pakistan for five years demonstrates that Pakistan's military was either complicit or incompetent. Either prospect is deeply troubling, but another abrupt cut in U.S. aid will only endanger security cooperation that has been effective, if insufficient, in making America safer.
The United States is constrained by three harsh realities:
- Closing terrorist safe-havens and keeping Pakistan's nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands requires sustained Pakistani action.
- We cannot fight in Afghanistan without the 80 percent of fuel and dry goods shipped through Pakistan. A responsible withdrawal of U.S. forces depends on an Afghan political solution that Pakistan will influence.
- Pakistan's stability affects India, Afghanistan, China, and Iran. It is a country of 180 million Muslims struggling with a weak civilian government, massive debt, and growing religious extremism fueled by widespread poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. U.S. sanctions would precipitate an economic crisis that likely would bring down the current government.
Pakistan hedges its bets, primarily through official and unofficial support for proxy terrorist forces they use to protect what they believe are existential strategic interests in Afghanistan and India. These proxies are killing our soldiers in Afghanistan and have growing global terrorist ambitions.
America has cut off aid before, with disastrous results. We funneled millions through Pakistan to oust the Soviets from Kabul, but we later cut all assistance for twelve years under nuclear-related sanctions. After 9/11, we came back with primarily military aid and demands they fight the Taliban. Today, the Pakistani people distrust us as a fair-weather friend that supports military dictators. The rising generation of Pakistani generals, barred under sanctions from U.S. training, remains wary of cooperation just when we need them to help us defeat al-Qaeda.
Through bilateral cooperation, more al-Qaeda leaders have been captured or killed in Pakistan than in any other country. But Pakistan hedges its bets, primarily through official and unofficial support for proxy terrorist forces they use to protect what they believe are existential strategic interests in Afghanistan and India. These proxies are killing our soldiers in Afghanistan and have growing global terrorist ambitions. So, the United States also hedges bets with unilateral actions like the raid on Osama.
The Osama raid was a wake-up call that it is now Pakistan's turn to demonstrate its reliability as an ally. Pakistan's parliament, media, and citizens are publicly questioning a deeply embarrassed military/intelligence establishment. The United States has also demanded answers about Osama's support network and should support an investigation that increases military accountability to the civilian government. An investigation won't produce public admissions of failure, but it could lead to a strategic policy reassessment that is in U.S. interests. We need to remain engaged to make this happen.
For more views on whether to continue U.S. aid to Pakistan, visit the Council on Foreign Relations.