Friday, May 27, 2011

The case for cutting U.S. military aid to Pakistan (with a postscript on the Pakistan 2020 report)

Lawrence Wright, in the May 16 New Yorker, advocates reducing U.S. support for Pakistan's military and intelligence service. (Phil Arena earlier drew attention to this piece at his blog.) I'm inclined to agree with Wright's prescription if not with all the reasoning. It seems likely that a lot of the aid is being diverted into non-military investments or used in ways that have nothing to do with the intended purposes. Wright notes that the Pakistani government is not doing much to expand its tax base (fewer than 2 million people pay taxes, he says, in a country of 180 million people) beyond appointing eunuchs as tax collectors in Karachi. The Pakistani military remains over-focused on India, which, as Wright observes, is not the main current threat to the state.

However, some of the presumed benefits that Wright connects with cutting military aid may prove difficult to realize. He mentions reducing U.S. tariffs for Pakistani textiles as a way of helping the civilian sector (and Pakistan's economy generally). But as a January 2011 article in The Seattle Times (which appears to have been picked up from Wash. Post) notes:

The [U.S.] House last year passed a narrowly focused bill designed to promote export industries in Afghanistan and [in] specific zones primarily in Pakistan's northwestern border region, but a corresponding bill has been stalled in the Senate. Separately, the U.S. textile industry has made clear it would strongly oppose any legislation that is more ambitious than the bill being considered, saying it would put American jobs at risk.

(See also Joshua Partlow and Haq Nawaz Khan, "As Violence Hurts Business, Pakistanis Debate U.S. Help; Restrictions Make Textile-Export Bill Useless, Some Say," Washington Post, July 28, 2009.)

Wright also suggests that a reduction in U.S. aid to Pakistan's military could give the U.S. leverage with India on the Kashmir issue, leading perhaps to a referendum that would result in Kashmir's independence. I wouldn't bet on that (I mean the leverage part). Nonetheless, Wright's piece does make a pretty strong case for cutting U.S. aid to Pakistan's army and the ISI (the intelligence service). (See also Aqil Shah, "Getting the Military Out of Pakistani Politics," Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011.)

P.s. Wright's piece is relatively brief and thus does not address issues that must lurk in the background of any discussion of U.S.-Pakistan relations, such as the persistently oligarchical character of key aspects of Pakistani society (i.e., the power of a small number of wealthy families) and the disastrous condition of the Pakistani state education system (which I have blogged about before), just to mention two.

P.p.s. The Asia Society has recently released a report, Pakistan 2020; according to part of a roll-out session for the report that I caught on C-Span radio several days ago, it addresses some of these more basic issues. The Asia Society's press release on the report is here.

P.p.p.s. The Economist chimes in.

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