The US’s decision to provide $700 million USD worth of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan has become a hot-topic issue.
Politico quoted US Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who is opposed to this deal, as saying: “I can’t in good conscience look away as America crumbles at home and politicians tax us to send the money to corrupt and duplicitous regimes abroad… Pakistan is at best a frenemy. Part friend — and a lot of enemy.”
Besides domestic opponents of this deal, the US seems to be alienating some allies abroad with it as well, particularly India, who has always had a tenuous relationship with its neighbor, Pakistan. An article in The Daily Mail takes note of this problematic position for the US: “It exposes the disconnect between the stronger strategic and defence thrust the US wants to give to its ties with India, and decisions that damage India’s security and aggravate the strategic challenges we face in our neighborhood.”
If America’s relationship with Pakistan is so troublesome, why continue to support them?
Pakistan stands in a strange position in the world of geopolitics. It has one of the world’s largest populations and standing militaries along with a nuclear arsenal; it is plagued by militant extremists, both internally and externally, and it is “courted” by various other regional and top global powers.
The United States is particularly interested in fostering a strong relationship with Pakistan as it is burgeoning world power in a region that is of the utmost interest to the US. Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia, was once a key supporter of the Afghani Taliban but, as is noted by a 2010 World Reporter article, due to pressure from the US, along with the desire to have sanctions lifted and being provided military aid, Pakistan joined the US coalition in the war on terror. Since then, Pakistan has been burdened with numerous terrorist attacks, an ailing economy, and general social instability. With these problems, the US has been under pressure to provide continued support for Pakistan in order to help maintain regional stability as well as to not alienate Pakistan who, despite the monetary and military aid, seems to hold the US in contempt.
In the eyes of US military strategists, Pakistan could, if supported properly, come to serve as one of the greatest guarantors of regional stability in the future. On the other hand, if it goes back to supporting more totalitarian movements, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, or if the nation fractures internally, it could become the greatest source of regional chaos
The other, and incredibly troublesome side of the coin is that Pakistan may not be as “well-behaved” as it tries to appear. The concern is that, even with all the aid provided, Pakistan may not be adhering to general US foreign policy interests. For instance, according to a 2010 Wall Street Journal article, Pakistan has been accused of still supporting certain elements of the Taliban since 9/11 – a claim which they vehemently deny. There are other questionable happenings that makes many suspicious of Pakistan, or at least may suggest that Pakistan may have some rogue elements within its political and military ranks. For instance, the fact that Osama Bin Laden was hiding in a massive compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan which is right next to a massive Pakistani military facility has prompted many to wonder if some high ranking Pakistani officials had been helping hide him. The general concern is not only that military aid may not be a good enough incentive for good behavior, but also that it could be used for the wrong reasons.
India is also very wary of the US’s arms trade with Pakistan, as both states have had a terrible relationship since their inception, particularly over territorial disputes. According to The Times of India, “The US has conveyed to India that it has put in place an ‘effective oversight’ and end-use monitoring system to ensure that security assistance given to Pakistan is used solely to combat terrorism.”
Yet, India is still undoubtedly displeased with this deal and the US’s overall attempt to solicit Pakistan. An article in The Daily Mail written by a former Indian Foreign Secretary in response to the recent F-16 deal claims that, “The US will calculate quite coldly that India has no option but to live with the American decision, as in the past…The cost to us of a downturn in our ties with the US becomes higher as our relationship grows, which gives it, as the stronger partner, more space to pursue policies in our region that go against our interests”.
The US seems to be in hot water when it comes to Pakistan. Withdrawing support will surely either push it into the hands of nations with regional foreign policy goals somewhat antagonistic to the US (e.g. China), or possibly give Pakistan more leeway to resume supporting militant extremists or may even lead to internal political fracturing. Yet, in continuing to support Pakistan, the US is supporting a nation that, at times, seems to blatantly disregard American foreign policy interests and antagonize US allies. Achieving the proper balance of courting Pakistan via military aid and admonishing them for policy transgressions will continue to plague US foreign policy (as will this recent F-16 deal) in the foreseeable future.
Assistant External News Editor