COMMENTARY
 
US Aid Linked to Progress in Counter-Terrorism
Weekly Pulse
July 20-26, 2007
The US Congress has passed the controversial draft bill—called the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007—requiring annual US Presidential certification of Pakistan’s contribution to the US-led War on Terror, besides its performance in a number of other areas crucial to US interests, as a precondition for the country to qualify for US assistance. The bill may have grave implications for Pakistan, as it directly links US aid to the country “doing more” against Taliban and al Qaeda.

The new US draft bill, which won a landslide approval from the US Senate on 26 July and the House of Representatives on 28 July, has now been sent to US President George W Bush for signature. Understandably, the Government of Pakistan has been opposed to the draft bill since it was moved in the US Congress earlier this year. It has, therefore, protested the Congressional decision, terming it as “counter-productive” to long-term Pak-US strategic interests.

President Musharraf has told the US ambassador-designate to Pakistan Anne W Patterson that the United States needs to “review the bill linking aid for Pakistan to progress in cracking down on al Qaeda and other militants and said the bill country detsabilise the long-term strategic partnership between the two countries.”

To Pakistan’s dismay, however, the White House, which had initially expressed some reservations about some Pakistan-specific clauses of the draft bill, maintains that it has no option but to go along with the Congressional decision, since these conditions are linked to the strategy of “strengthening American security to prevent future terrorist attacks” and is consciously presented as a follow-through on the bipartisan 9/11 Commission Report.

It is only a matter of time when President Bush signs the draft bill, making it a law that will continue to haunt the current and future regimes, civilians or nor, just as the Pressler Amendment did in the decade of the 90s. The bill’s provisions will take effect on October 1, when the US budget year begins. Each year, the US President would then have to report to Congress that Pakistan is making progress in combating al-Qaida and the Taliban before any aid could be disbursed.

Pressler Amendment

Pakistan and the United States were allies in the internationally sponsored jihad against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 80’s. During this time, the United States looked the other way as Pakistan pursued its nuclear ambitions. As soon as Soviet troops started withdrawing from Afghanistan, Pakistan was no more strategically important for the United States.

Consequently, the US assistance to Pakistan was liked to the 1985 Pressler Amendment, which required the US President to annually certify whether Pakistan was pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. In the next 11 years until the aftermath of September 11, 2001, neither President George W Bush, Sr nor his two successors, President Bill Clinton and President George W Bush, Jr, ever certified that Pakistan’s nuclear quest was essentially a defensive response to India’s nuclear ambitions, and that it did not pose any danger to international peace and security.

The Pakistan-specific Pressler amendment left a deep scar on the US-Pak relationship, the memories of which are invoked from time to time by those in politics and media who maintain a critical perspective on American tendency to use the allied states as long as they are useful and abandon them as soon as their value diminishes in US global strategic priorities.

No surprise that the Pressler amendment remained a focal point of criticism and protest, both by Pakistani state and public circles, throughout the 90s. In the last one week, we have witnessed the same recrimination and protest, as another amendment to the US Foreign Assistance Act is about to come into force.

The New Bill

As for Pakistan-specific clauses of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007, they require the country to make “demonstrated, significant and sustained progress towards eliminating terrorist safe havens from Pakistan.” The draft bill starts with a positive note, reiterating the 9/11 Commission’s assessment that Pakistan is an important ally with creditable performance in the execution of American plans to act against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

It then lists the main problems that the surfaced in US ties with Pakistan. These include: (1) Curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology; (2) Combating poverty and corruption; (3) Building effective government institutions, especially secular public schools; (4) Promoting democracy and the rule of law, particularly at the national level; (5) Addressing the continued presence of Taliban and other violent extremist forces throughout the country; (6) Maintaining the authority of the government of Pakistan in all parts of its national territory; (7) Securing the borders of Pakistan to prevent the movement of militants and terrorists into other countries and territories; and (8) Effectively dealing with Islamic extremism.

While placing the conditionality of certification in the Office of the US President, the draft bill wants the US administration to consolidate American policy in Pakistan, designating it as an important “strategic” ally who must cooperate in the programme to “combat international terrorism, especially in the frontier provinces of Pakistan, and to end the use of Pakistan as a safe haven for forces associated with the Taliban”. This is to be followed by a “dramatic increase in the funding for programmes of the United States Agency for International Development and the Department of State that assist the government of Pakistan,” but only “if the government of Pakistan demonstrates a commitment to building a moderate, democratic state, including significant steps towards free and fair parliamentary elections in 2007.”

Strategic Importance

As clear from the above provisions, the draft bill does confirm that Pakistan remains strategically crucial to the US-led war against terrorism. In the case of the Pressler Amendment, this was not the case—as the country had virtually lost strategic importance for the United States in view of the Soviet troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, enabling the successive US administrations to apply the Pressler Amendment in a punitive way.

Another positive feature of the draft bill is that in case the US President certifies the required obligations on Pakistan’s part as satisfactory then the country will qualify for even greater US assistance in future. Yet another feature of the draft bill, which may be re-assuring particularly for the democratic forces in the country, is that it makes US assistance conditional to democratic reforms in Pakistan, rule of law and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2007.

Finally, the draft bill allows the Bush administration to delay the Pakistan-specific restrictions for one year. For the purpose, the draft bill requires the US President to submit a report to a Congressional committee, in classified form if necessary, describing the long-term strategy of the United States “to engage with the government of Pakistan to address the issues described in the bill and carry out the policies suggested by Congress in order to accomplish the goal of building a moderate, democratic Pakistan.”

For Pakistan to qualify for US military assistance in the 2007-2008 fiscal years, the US President has to certify to this Congressional Committee “that the government of Pakistan is making all possible efforts to prevent the Taliban from operating in areas under its sovereign control, including in the cities of Quetta and Chaman and in the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas”.

More specifically, the US President has to certify that the “Taliban, or any related successor organisation, has ceased to exist as an organisation capable of conducting military, insurgent, or terrorist activities in Afghanistan from Pakistan.” If he does not, then the same curbs in US economic and military assistance that Pakistan faced from October 1990 to September 2001 under the Pressler Amendment—and other nuclear and democracy-specific sanctions imposed after the 1998 nuclear tests and 1999 military coup, respectively—will come into force.

The Nuclear Question

The proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies was a central issue in the Pressler Amendment. The scope of the Pakistan-specific clauses of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007 is, therefore, much broader than Pressler. The US President has not only to certify Pakistan’s performance in tacking Taliban and al Qaeda, he is also required to certify that Pakistan is not engaged in any nuclear weapons or missile proliferation activities.

Since the 2003 exposure of the A Q Khan nuclear smuggling network, the Bush administration has been critical of Pakistan’s performance on the nuclear proliferation front, and simultaneously appreciative of India’s conduct on the matter. That as been its central argument for refusing to sign a nuclear energy deal with Pakistan as against the US nuclear energy deal with India.

In fact, the US State Department’s deputy spokesman, Tom Casey, has made it clear that the United States considers relations with both India and Pakistan as important but the accord to implement India-US civil nuclear deal is a clear recognition of a “real difference” between them. “And I think we’ve also been very clear that because of the issues with proliferation from Pakistan, that it’s a very different situation between those two countries. And the fact that we have this agreement with India now is a clear recognition that there is a real difference,” Casey added.

As for Pakistan’s performance in the War on Terror, for the past few years, the Bush administration has been increasingly pressing the Musharraf regime to “do more” in preventing Taliban and al-Qaeda from re-grouping in the country’s tribal belt and their infiltration into Afghanistan at a time when the Taliban-led insurgency there has gained momentum.

US Warning

The most recent US National Intelligence Estimate suggests that, in US perception, al-Qaida and its Taliban and other extremist affiliates have consolidated themselves in the tribal belt of the Frontier province, and that this has occurred as a result of the Waziristan deal that was concluded between the Musharraf regime and the tribal jirga in North Waziristan. According to this estimate, the said deal has “given al Qaeda new opportunities to set up compounds for terror training, improve its international communications with associates and bolster its operations.”

As a corollary of this estimate, the Bush administration has indicated that the United States may contemplate undertaking direct strikes inside Pakistani tribal territory if the Musharraf regime continues to fail in combating the hideouts of al Qaeda, Taliban and other extremists there. Even though the United States is believed to have already hit such targets inside the tribal belt in the past three years, this is the first time it as officially expressed its intention to undertake such strikes.

No surprise that such a US intention has received a barrage of criticism and condemnation from both the government and public circles in Pakistan. The Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Policy has even called for severing ties with the United States.

The Bottomline

All said and done, already politically weakened due to recent judicial verdict restring the Chief Justice and the ongoing extremist backlash from the Red Mosque Operation, the Musharraf regime is now faced with perhaps the most volatile challenge on the foreign policy front. It was the unhindered support from the Bush administration that enabled to muddle through the domestic political troubles.

General Musharraf is in the line of fire, both domestically and internationally. Extremist backlash is killing his soldiers. Musharraf’s sojourn to the UAE for a possible deal with Benazir Bhutto has exposed his political weakness. The US draft bill will reduce his ability to secure US support to perpetuate his rule.

2007 may start another round of transition to democracy in Pakistan, just as the country saw a transition to democracy in 1988 and beyond. With reference to ties with the United States, however, the transitional democratic governments that are elected from this year onwards will face the same problem that their predecessors faced throughout the 1990s. If the Pressler amendment continued to haunt them then, the Pakistan-specific clauses of the new US bill will haunt them in the coming years.

This year, President Bush may certify Pakistan’s performance on tackling the al-Qaeda and Taliban danger and other issues of concerns to the US as satisfactory, but there is no guarantee that the new US President, elected in November 2008 elections—most probably a Democrat—would do the same. That is because the “problems” that the draft bill lists are so well-entrenched and complicated in Pakistan’s ground reality that it will be difficult for any Pakistani leader, be she or he is a civilian, to satisfy US demands.