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Cheryl Howard Crew Headshot

It's Time to Re-Evaluate Our Pakistan Funding Strategy

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This was a first for me to not agree with my favorite journalist, Fareed Zakaria. It was the "Fareed's Take" segment on his 5/15 GPS show that was of real interest to me. I wrote a book about India, Afghanistan and, in particular, Pakistan. I had even traveled through Abbottabad, where the notorious and elusive Osama bin Laden had been tracked and killed less than two weeks before Fareed's show. In the town where Osama had been residing comfortably, I only had to be partially veiled as my two Pakistani escorts, two former military gentlemen, and I made our way north. Abbottabad had a golf course; it was considered a bit affluent by Pakistani standards, where the residents felt safe. After all, the Pakistani Military Academy was located in Abbottabad. So when I made my way through that that quiet town, grateful to no longer be traveling through the more volatile and fundamentalist tribal lands of the North West Frontier, little did I know that the most infamous terrorist, less than a mile from the Academy, would finally meet his end there years later. My trip was in 1996 and 1997, before Osama bin Laden and 2001. And now, a decade later Osama is finally dead, but the game that Pakistan plays to this day is alive and well.

Like most Arab/Asian countries with ties to terrorism, I believe, as they say, they all "play both ends against the middle," "talk out of both sides of their mouth" and yes, can quite simply be "two-faced." With some, it is survival that motivates this duplicity. For others, it is profit. Even the Saud family, the leadership that we tout most as an ally, quietly pays these extremists, in the hopes that they don't become targets themselves. Our leaders know this as do our intelligence agencies. The U.S. alone has pumped more than $15 billion into Pakistan since 9/11 and in 2009 Obama committed to another $7.5 billion for the next five years. This funding was intended to support the U.S. against the threat of militant Islamists and al-Qaeda. However, there has been little accountability by the Pakistan government for much of it.

That the Pakistani leadership, its senior generals and its military were complicit in harboring bin Laden is a given. Who knew and how high up it went, I doubt that we'll ever know. With the discovery of the world's most notorious terrorist, but more importantly, America's most wanted man found and slain right in the hub of a Pakistani military community, and not in the tribal lands where Pakistan had a legitimate argument (and used it often, I'm sure) for not being able to get to Osama before us, clearly revealed not just an incompetency, or a greed for money, but a rising arrogance and even disdain for us as a legitimate partner in any counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism efforts.

Fareed Zakaria had three suggestions for Washington, the first of which was the formation of a major national commission in Pakistan, headed by a Supreme Court justice, to investigate whether bin Laden and other al-Qaeda elders have been supported and sustained by elements of the Pakistani state. The second would be a demand that the provision of the Kerry-Lugar Bill on civilian control of the military be strictly followed. And the third would be to ask to see a plan for the Pakistani military to go after the major untouched terror networks in Pakistan.

If there was ever a time that these three demands could work, it should be now. In the spirit of the "Arab Spring" it would make sense that the Pakistanis, long oppressed by their own rulers and military, should be ready to reform. But like Afghanistan, the U.S. has been there too long, enabled and empowered too much, and now we're caught in our own need to control, and the Pakistanis are onto us. I believe with all my heart that the Pakistanis will want to be true partners someday, but not now. Not yet.

Sadly, I have no confidence that there is any Supreme Court justice that would have enough power or even the will to go against the leadership, the generals and their armies. And I can't imagine that the Pakistanis response to the Kerry-Lugar Bill for stronger civilian controls would be met with any less rancor than it had when it was initially challenged in 2009. And as for demanding a plan to go after the major untouched terror networks in Pakistan... well, sounds like the failed "Road Map" between the Israelis and the Palestinians. With all the monies we have funded into the Pakistan state through the years, the fact that there are "untouched" major terrorist networks anywhere in Pakistan tells it all.

If this startling betrayal was of any benefit beyond the obvious riddance of Osama bin Laden, it should make it clear that it's also time to change the rules of this game.

The arrogance of allowing Osama to reside anywhere in Pakistan makes it evident that we might have to reconsider the use of our very precious funds these days. That we need, and should continue, ties to Pakistan is not in question. We must, but how much?

I feel the only hope we have of breaking a habit of paying a lot for too little, basically enabling an existence that the Pakistanis will not give up easily, is to pay outright for a job well done. Instead of paying Pakistan for the intelligence we have not yet received or of the captured militant who they have yet to catch or even hold (they have quite a revolving door policy when it comes to their favorite "freedom fighters/terrorists) I wonder if some of the monies given should be withheld to pay... do I dare say, once they show us the body?

No doubt there would be a backlash for withholding funds. Much like an entitled, empowered teenager of a rich parent, we should expect to face a time of "acting out" I'm sure. I don't mean this lightly, and I would be false in not saying that the unknown of that particular tantrum is daunting. But what choice do we have? We have already set a pattern that is dangerously open-ended. We should expect, at the very least, a rash of suicide bombers on our very own soil, or pipe bombs, or even kidnappings, or worse. All are possible, but to continue in this spin, to let our fears keep us from acting with strength, will only keep us and those we enable from moving forward.

Our funding strategy needs to be re-evaluated. The idea of putting some of that money into our own home security may have merit, so at the very least we can brace for what may be inevitable, while we wait and hope that the "Arab Spring" for Central Asia is not far behind.

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