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Wajid Ali Syed Headshot

The $800 Million Game

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Only a year ago, the Obama administration decided to ramp up military support to the Pakistani army as part of an effort to persuade Islamabad to do more to combat militants. The new military aid, which was contingent on Congressional approval, was expected to amount to more than $2 billion over five years and would pay for equipment Pakistan could use for counterinsurgency and counterterror operations.

Pakistan had received about $1.9 billion in military assistance from the U.S. in fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30, including about $300 million in grants to buy U.S. defense equipment.

U.S. officials hoped the new aid could effectively eliminate Pakistan's objections that it doesn't have the equipment needed to launch more operations in the tribal areas.

By July 2011, the U.S. had taken unilateral actions to kill Osama bin Laden and a number of different high level targets through drone strikes. The apparent non-cooperation or push back from the Pakistan military to attack al Qaeda operatives in the northern areas angered U.S. lawmakers. Meanwhile, relations between the two countries soured and hit all-time low -- or did they?

Despite the anger expressed by Washington lawmakers, a bill to freeze the $2 billion aid package to Pakistan failed to pass Congress. Now comes news that the Obama administration, in an attempt to appear tough on the Pakistan military, has canceled $800 million of the said aid, purportedly to persuade Islamabad to do far more to combat terrorism.

This cancellation might satisfy Pakistan's critics, most of whom pushed the administration to press Pakistan to fight militants effectively. But at some point the U.S. has to decide whether paying the Pakistan military is helpful or not. When the aid was initially approved, officials from both the U.S. and Pakistan rejected the notion that the military assistance was a quid pro quo, arguing that they are trying to build a partnership, not cut a deal.

Subtract $800 million from $2 billion and what's left is the partnership.

The military aid was approved to pressure Pakistan to start operations against militants in the northern areas, which it did not. Now at the time when this aid is being "canceled," the Pakistani military has already launched a full-fledged operation in central Kurram Agency.

The cancellation of the $800 million plays well in an election year. The American public has grown increasingly concerned about the deteriorating economic situation in the U.S.; add to that the perception that the Pakistan army is less than honest about its sincerity to fight terrorism. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. had no option but to cancel this military aid, which funds the military equipment and the U.S. trainers that Pakistan military refused to accept.

In simple words, the U.S. was not going to hand this amount to Pakistan in cash. The aid is being held back because of training cutbacks including intelligence, surveillance, arms and ammunition and other support equipment. The U.S. had to spend this on its own soldiers, and its own equipment. Since the Pakistan military refused to budge, the U.S. has this money as a little flag on its ledger.

This explains why the Pakistan military announced that suspension of aid would not affect its ongoing campaign against militants in the tribal areas.

The "pause in the military aid," as the Pakistan ambassador to the U.S. puts it, or "delay" as the U.S. defense department called it, does include a $300 million reimbursement, but the Pakistan army can take advantage of this non-payment to fan the flames of anti-Americanism by claiming that the U.S. is not a reliable partner. This is an $800 million game that Pakistan played, putting the U.S. in a situation where it is left with no option but to follow.

President Lyndon Johnson once asked, "Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg?" Then answered, "It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else." It seems that in this case, this situation has reversed and it seems hot to everyone else but to you.

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