President Trump’s decision to freeze approximately $2 billion in US security assistance to Pakistan has received cautious support from senior lawmakers and foreign policy analysts. And while the political and military calculus of suspending aid payments is complex, the Trump administration’s approach is sound.

The $33.9 billion Washington has sent to Islamabad since 2002 may have earned it the right to supply American military efforts in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory, but it has failed to deter Pakistan from undermining those same efforts through its support for extremist groups. And while Washington and Islamabad worked successfully together in the hunt for senior al Qaeda members during the early years of the war, ties between the two countries have since been held hostage to mutual distrust, personality conflict, and even outright hostility. The occasional display of grudging cooperation notwithstanding, Pakistan has repeatedly shown its unwillingness to sever ties with US enemies in Afghanistan and South Asia.

American priorities in the region are not Pakistani priorities. Washington and Islamabad have sharply different views on what constitutes success in Afghanistan, on how the Pakistani military should conduct its campaign against militancy, and on the nature of India’s regional influence.

Since 9/11, the United States has viewed Afghanistan as, first and foremost, a counterterrorism problem. Before the United States got distracted with institution-building and counterinsurgency operations, US forces deployed to Afghanistan in October 2001 in order to drive the Taliban from Kabul, to uproot al Qaeda’s infrastructure, and to capture or kill its leader, Osama bin Laden. The mission was about retaliating against the group that had conducted the worst-ever terrorist attack on US soil.

Pakistani soldiers returning from a June 2017 security operation in Peshawar. Reuters

Pakistan’s main goal in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is to prevent the country from forging a strategic relationship with India. The historical and geopolitical rivalry with its larger neighbour has governed Pakistan’s national security policy since its founding in 1947. Pakistan’s military leadership has long seen Afghanistan as an arena in which to combat an Indian influence they view as destabilising, perfidious, and threatening to Pakistan’s own sovereignty and national security. To the United States, Indian investment in Afghanistan and constructive Indian-Afghan relations are valuable for Kabul’s fiscal and political health. In Pakistan, these same developments are understood as efforts by India to enhance its geopolitical power at the expense of Pakistan, and to increase pressure on Pakistan’s military via a new front on its western border.

Despite their bravado, Pakistani officials realise how economically vibrant, politically stable, and militarily capable New Delhi is in comparison to Islamabad. Pakistan has attempted to compensate for this strategic imbalance in three ways: by improving the range of its ballistic missile capability so its warheads can strike deep into India; by accelerating the pace of its nuclear weapons development; and by continuing to develop relationships with extremist groups that can be counted on to help check Indian influence.

In the disputed territory of Kashmir, in Afghanistan, and in India itself, Pakistan-based extremist groups have launched attacks on military installations and civilian targets, killing hundreds of people and bringing the two nuclear-armed rivals closer to a military confrontation. While the Pakistani government has always denied direct involvement with these organisations, US officials believe that Islamabad continues to view these militants as critical anti-India tools in its national security toolbox. Some senior American officials have taken these concerns public. In congressional testimony, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen noted that Pakistani intelligence provided Haqqani militants with support during their attacks against a US army base and a Kabul hotel. In 2008, after a group of militants attacked the Indian Embassy in Kabul, US officials blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate for assisting in the attack. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton reportedly confronted her Pakistani counterparts with intelligence linking the ISI to insurgents who fought against US soldiers in Afghanistan.

Yet even these complaints, made in public and backed by strong evidence, failed to change the Pakistanis’ behaviour. Washington mistakenly believed Pakistani leaders would change the India-centric outlook that had been ingrained in the national psyche for seven decades in exchange for tens of billions of dollars. But Pakistan views the cultivation of groups like the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammed as essential to its national security. As long as Pakistan’s leadership continues to view India as its main concern, its ties to these extremist groups will always be worth more than tens of billions of dollars from Washington.

Donald Trump. Reuters

To be clear, the stick is unlikely to work where the carrot failed. Those in Washington who hope that freezing aid may suddenly scare Islamabad back into line will almost certainly be disappointed. The national security interests of the United States and Pakistan diverge on Afghanistan and South Asia to such an extent that even tougher measures – such as outright aid termination, the withdrawal of Pakistan’s status as an ally, or selective sanctions on Pakistani security officials – are unlikely to be potent enough to sever Pakistan’s ties with the militants its intelligence services have courted for decades. The Trump administration rightly judged that it was time for the United States to cut its losses.

Pakistan is not a true ally, friend, or partner to the United States, but a nation whose security interests and counterterrorism goals in South Asia are not aligned with what Washington is hoping to accomplish. Until those interests are in sync – a dubious prospect at best – the Haqqani network will continue to live in comfort within Pakistan’s borders, confident in the notion that the Pakistani military officers running national security will leave them alone. American policymakers must take a step back, thoroughly evaluate the US relationship with Pakistan, and determine whether further cooperation is even possible. That decision must be made carefully and explained to the American taxpayers whose hard-earned money has, for decades, funded Pakistan’s aid payments. Until then, it is long past time for Washington to stop throwing good money after bad.

Daniel R. DePetrisis a foreign policy analyst based in New York City.

7 Responses to “The White House is right to suspend aid to Pakistan”

  1. gmbadal

    US and India have been deliberately misguiding world about extremism in Pakistan for ulterior motive. Once when Taliban were fighting with USSR they were apples of eyes and became chief guests of White House. Now when the same people want free Afghanistan they are presented as terrorists. It is big question that who is behind the supporting and exporting terrorist from Afghanistan to Pakistan for terrorism. What a pity that a country which is busy in fighting with terrorists is presented by US and India as terrorists’ supporter.

  2. M. Emad

    Pakistan Army establishment actively patronises jihadi-militant ideology as a geopolitical strategy. There is a high possibility that Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons and nuclear materials could land up in the hands of Jihadi-terrorist groups. Also, the rise of Militant sympathisers within the Pakistan Armed Forces Officer Corps and soldiers are most alarming! The UN / White House soon must secure Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapon technoligy & materials to prevent a global catastrophe.

    • Khan

      May be a man sitting on a tree in the Sundarban can think like this. But in this modern world every one knows that it can not be stolen like a cow or cattle. It has a distributed security mechanism and Pakistan has the most advanced security system of the world. We should not follow Indian lines and try to think with our own minds.

  3. Khan

    Pakistan helped America to be a uni polar super power by dismantling USSR in 1979-89 Afghan war when 90,000 Afghan-Pakistan mujaheddin lost their life and multi millions of Afghani migrated to Pakistan and are still there. The same amount of people were disabled. After defeating USSR Americans dumped Afghans and Pakistanis and left them alone to sort their problem themselves. The American casualties were zero. In the second round in 2001 the so called battle after 9/11 where Afghanistan and Pakistan had nothing to do with twin tower blast, till now 80,000 Pakistanis and thousands of Afghans has been killed till date and also 2297 American forces lost their life. The American war brought only destruction and negligence for Pakistan. Now Americans are blaming Pakistan for their selfish world politics. The new American administration should help to bring a political change in the region. Military power solution is not going to help these poor countries or the Americans.

  4. Sukhamaya Bain

    A good commentary. But it fails to point out the real problem, which is too much of Islamic fanaticism in Pakistan. Until a reasonable degree of rationalism and humanism takes root in Pakistan’s national psyche, that country will remain a serious problem for the civilized world.

    • Raghu Da'Souza

      What about the Hindutva following by the highly fanatical Hindu terrorist killing and maiming not only Muslims but also Christians and the moderate Hindus as well in India? India has now become a severely fanatical and a Hindu terrorist country that only the West loves for now as she fumes out anti-Muslim venom.

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