Pakistan’s Army said Monday that a US military aid cut worth some $800 million won’t affect its ability to conduct combat operations. Analysts call the cuts the strongest indicator yet of the deteriorating nature of the relationship between the two countries and say it could cause the Pakistani military to retreat to a more hostile anti-US position.
"The Army in the past, as well as at present, has conducted successful military operations using its own resources without any external support whatsoever,” Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, told the AFP. He added that the Army had not received any official correspondence from the US on the matter.
General Abbas's statement might be a stretch, but according to Ayesha Siddiqa, military analyst and author of “Military Inc,” the symbolism of the cut is likely to outweigh the operational significance, despite the fact that the cut would account for roughly 40 percent of the $2 billion in military assistance America gives Pakistan annually.
“It’s an indicator of relations getting pushed further apart,” she says, adding that with the cut the US appears to have called the Pakistani’s military’s bluff on a recent statement attributed to Army chief General Kayani in which he said that US military aid to Pakistan would be better spent on civilian purposes.
What would suspending $800 million look like?
Some $300 million of the money that the US is suspending was set to go to Pakistan in the form of reimbursement to the Army for its deployment of troops along the Afghanistan border. Some of the money was also planned to go to Pakistan in the form of equipment, though when the country ordered more than 100 US military trainers to leave the country recently, it refused to accept equipment from the US, according to the New York Times
“It’ll start a debate, let’s see where it goes and how far the Americans want to take it,” says Ms. Siddiqa, adding that a failure by the Pakistani military to comply with US demands to fight terror groups, especially the Haqqani network, more effectively could eventually lead to further cuts and even economic sanctions.
Pakistan’s military has been under immense domestic and international pressure in recent months, following the raid to kill Osama bin Laden and another US raid on a naval base in Karachi attributed which analysts attributed inside assistance. Last week, Adm. Mike Mullen became the first US official to publicly blame the killing of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad on Pakistan’s government.
What happens to Pakistan's civilian government?
Cyril Almeida, a political analyst and Assistant Editor at Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English daily, says the cuts could harm Pakistan’s civilian government more than the military.
“The Army will dig in its heels. It’s going to call up the Finance Ministry and ask them to cut a check, and they will cut them a check, which will be financed by the State Bank or loans from private sector. Perversely, at the very time US aid is flowing, this will guarantee that things will deteriorate more [for the economy].”
The cuts could also have a harmful impact on Pakistan’s democracy, adds Siddiqa. “Historically, [foreign aid] is one of the reasons why political governments have been tolerated [by the military] in the first place. If they are not bringing in money, then why have them?”
Popular opinion in Pakistan is overwhelmingly in favor of less US involvement in the region and the Army may now be tempted to reassess its key partnerships, according to Saeed Shafqat, Director of the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at the Foreman Christian College University in Lahore.
But, warns Mr. Almeida, the political analyst, a further deterioration in ties with the US could leave Pakistan increasingly isolated on the world stage, given that it has not ramped up strategic cooperation with China or the Gulf states and the peace process with India remains slow.
“If at some point the Pakistan Army thought the US was no friend to Pakistan, it should have cultivated new friends in the mean time,” he says.