Ever since U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden in his fortified compound located less than an hour's drive from Islamabad, American lawmakers have been questioning how and why Pakistan failed to find him sooner. As some call for Pakistan's leaders to pay a price for their incompetence or intransigence in hunting down key militants, National Journal’s National Security Insiders are divided right down the middle on whether or not to cut back or eliminate the billions of dollars in aid the U.S. provides Pakistan in exchange for counterterrorism cooperation. They're similarly split on whether the success of the bin Laden mission will shift U.S. military interventions toward more reliance on drones and targeted strikes.
Fifty-one percent of National Security Insiders said the U.S. should cut aid to Pakistan: either military or civilian aid, or both. Forty-seven percent of the 55 Insiders said the U.S. shouldn’t cut any aid—at least not yet. Of the 28 respondents who said the U.S. should cut funding of some kind, 16 of them said that the U.S. should cut only military aid, with another 10 saying that both military and civilian accounts should be cut.
U.S. officials once believed that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan’s lawless tribal regions, beyond the reach of the country’s security forces. Instead, al-Qaida's leader was found in a massive compound in Abbottabad, an affluent garrison town. The Obama administration requested $3 billion in aid to Pakistan in the fiscal 2012 budget; some in Congress are now saying they want proof that elements within Pakistan’s government did not provide the Qaida chief with a support network. They’re also questioning Pakistan’s capabilities (and willingness) to fight militants in the rest of the country, particularly those who hide in the country’s porous border regions to regroup and rearm before launching new attacks in Afghanistan.
Washington has provided Islamabad with almost $21 billion in military and nonmilitary aid since 2002. Of that, $14.2 billion has gone to the Pakistani security services—mostly from the Pentagon’s “coalition-support funds,” created after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to reimburse key countries for their expenses combating terrorism. According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, some $6.5 billion has gone towards civilian aid for the Pakistan government – most of it via “economic-support funds,” usually intended for infrastructure and development projects, thereby allowing governments to free up money for military programs.
One National Security Insider who called for cutting only military aid argued that as U.S. dollars help pay for Pakistan's counterterrorism operations, funds "should be linked to performance.” When the troop drawdown in Afghanistan picks up, military aid should decline, the Insider added. “But development aid – shamefully low as strains have grown in Pakistan – should be elevated. Development ought to be a strategic U.S. interest. Purloined nuclear weapons from Pakistan pose a serious nuclear-terrorism risk, and an unstable Pakistan could provoke nuclear war with India.”
The most prominent aid deal in the works is a 2009 measure authored by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., to provide $7.5 billion in nonmilitary aid to Pakistan by 2014 if the U.S. government certifies that Pakistan is taking clear steps to battle Islamist militants within its borders. Kerry, who recently returned from a trip to Islamabad to defuse the escalating crisis, acknowledged that this is a “make-or-break” moment in Congress for aid to Pakistan, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged lawmakers to use caution as they weigh the decision.
This hesitation is reflected in the responses of 26 National Security Insiders who said that aid should not be cut -- even though many added the caveat: “at least, not yet.” One Insider said that military aid should be used as a “bargaining chip for greater cooperation.” While the U.S. should hold off on slashing Pakistani funding, another Insider said, Washington needs to "get serious about conditioning aid based on results and get serious about substituting trade for aid on the civilian side.”
The Abbottabad raid, which involved no U.S. casualties, earned kudos from many National Security Insiders who said its success will help shift U.S. military interventions towards more reliance on drones and targeted strikes. “The bin Laden killing shows that scalpel precision is powerful and effective, while our large military interventions have been costly and counterproductive,” one Insider said.
Many stressed that this shift was already well in the works. “U.S. and allied fatigue with Afghanistan was growing before bin Laden’s death and is now accelerating. This [raid] will hasten U.S. and coalition troop cuts, thereby constraining options for conventional military action," said one Insider. "But having fewer troops in the field will reduce the means to collect of on-the-ground intelligence vital for high-value targeting. Thus, drone and other targeted strikes will remain an important, even if second-best, solution to weaken hostile forces and keep them off balance.”
In the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid, should the Obama administration cut U.S. aid to Pakistan?
- Cut only military aid 29%
- Cut both military and civilian aid 18%
- Cut only civilian aid 4%
- Cut no aid 47%
- Volunteered response 2%
Cut military aid
"The United States surely realizes that Pakistan is no unitary actor, and neither are the Pakistani military and security services.… Chiefly, though, the 'blank check' reimbursements the United States has been giving the Pakistani military for conducting counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations must end."
"The U.S. would hurt its long-term interests in South Asia if it severed all aid to Pakistan. Pakistan clearly acts only in its own interests and to the detriment of the interconnected global community. Our aid is one of our few levers left, but we should restructure it to reduce the military aid. Such an act would signal we still act in support of the Pakistani people and signal our anger about the duplicitous actions of Pakistan's military and the ISI."
Cut both military and civilian aid
"The Pakistanis have played us for fools for three decades, so the bin Laden event is not a major event in this analysis."
Cut no aid
"It is premature to change policy. No smoking gun exists that senior leaders knew of bin Laden’s location. Decisions to cut aid should be held as leverage in event more is uncovered or in return for future behavior."
Will the success of the bin Laden mission shift U.S. military interventions toward more reliance on drones and targeted strikes?
- Yes 49%
- No 51%
"Not because it should, but because in the end, the Obama Administration is going to be comfortable using bin Laden’s capture as a justification for winding down U.S. military involvement in the conflict formerly known as the war on terror."
"We're already pressing our luck relying on drones as much as we do -- it's not a sustainable policy for too much longer."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense- and foreign-policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Paula Broadwell, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.
This article appears in the May 23, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.