The United States of America has accused Pakistan of illegally modifying the Harpoon anti-ship missile and maritime surveillance aircraft P-3C for land attacks for potential use against India, a clear violation of United States law. The Barack Obama administration, reported The New York Times on August 30, 2009, has already registered its protest with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in June 2009. The modified version of these missiles could "strike land targets" and posed "a potential threat to India," the report quoted senior US administration and Congressional officials as saying. Citing unnamed officials from the administration and Congress, The New York Times said Washington has also accused Pakistan of modifying American-made P-3C aircraft for land-attack missions.
US officials suspect that Pakistan has modified the missiles, a violation of the Arms Control Export Act. "Whatever their origin, the missiles would be a significant new entry into Pakistan's arsenal against India. They would enable Pakistan's small navy to strike targets on land, complementing the sizable land-based missile arsenal that Pakistan has developed," The New York Times said. Between 1985 and 1988, the US had provided 165 Harpoon missiles to Pakistan.
In addition to Pakistan’s rapid expansion of its nuclear arsenal, Islamabad is also in the process of developing weapons’ technologies that have obviously very little to do with counter-insurgency – the principal rationale of current US defence supplies to Pakistan. The Obama regime’s indictment on the Harpoon missiles issue only confirms India’s long-held position that US aid, both military and non-military, is largely used by Pakistan to target India. Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna had, in fact, stated as recently as on August 17, 2009, that India had conveyed to the US Government that "whatever aid in whatever form has been given to them (Pakistan) is invariably directed against India and this has been emphatically registered with the US Government." The statement was a reaction to the Barack Obama Administration’s plans to provide more military aid to Pakistan.
Pakistan has, quite predictably, denied the US allegations that it illegally modified the Harpoon missiles, and claims, instead, that it developed them itself. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry stated on August 30, 2009, that it "categorically rejected" the article in The New York Times. In a brief statement, the Foreign Office spokesman said "no modification has been made to the missiles under reference."
It is, however, not only the Harpoon missile and P-3C alone which constitute Pakistan’s project to target India. Members of the US Congress, the Council on Foreign Relations says, have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while it is racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid are being diverted to Pakistan's nuclear programme. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of Pakistan’s expanded nuclear arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on May 14, 2009, during a Senate testimony.
In a paper written for the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists, Robert Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists have stated that Pakistan is "busily enhancing its capabilities across the board," with new nuclear-capable ballistic missiles "being readied for deployment, and two nuclear capable cruise missiles under development." Kristensen told Times of India on September 2, 2009, "The fact that they are preparing nuclear-capable cruise missiles suggests their scientists have been able to miniaturize nuclear warheads by using plutonium… They are shifting their nuclear base from uranium to plutonium... in a sense, they are turning a chapter." Kristensen also said Pakistan's weapons and delivery systems can be assumed to be India-specific because Islamabad "has not declared any other adversary."
Responding to reports on Pakistani efforts at increasing its nuclear strength, the Indian Army chief, General Deepak Kapoor, noted, moreover, "There is a difference between having a degree deterrence, which is required for protection, and going beyond that. If the news reports of (Pakistan) having 70 to 90 atomic bombs are correct, then I think they are going well beyond the requirement of deterrence."
Amidst all this, it needs mention that Washington has initiated efforts to ensure the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal of approximately 70-90 weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of Islamist militants. So far, America’s aid to Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure has been limited to a "$100 million classified program to help Pakistan secure its weapons and materials from seizure by al Qaeda, the Taliban or "insiders" with insurgent loyalties." Bruce Riedel, who served as the co-author of the review of Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, reflected the US Administration’s concern, observing that Pakistan "has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace else on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons program that is growing faster than anyplace else on earth."
Despite the existing institutional safeguards, insecurity regarding Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal persists. While the forward march of the Taliban – al Qaeda combine within the context of Pakistan’s progressive implosion has contributed global apprehensions, these have been heightened by past instances where radical elements have managed to penetrate the country’s nuclear establishment. The case of the A.Q. Khan network is well documented, but there has also been the Ummah Tamir-e-Nau: Dr. Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, former Director General of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), formed the UmmahTamir-e-Nau in March 2000 after resigning from the PAEC in 1999. After a great deal of US pressure, Mahmood was arrested on October 23, 2001, from Islamabad, along with his associate Abdul Majeed, who was arrested at Lahore. They were, however, released shortly thereafter.
Within the current milieu, any decisive advance of the Islamist militant enterprise in Pakistan increases the probabilities that terrorist groups could eventually access the nukes. Pakistani reassurances that the weapons are out of the Taliban – al Qaeda reach notwithstanding, the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal remains a cause for global concern. While the idea that terrorist groups could access Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is, at present, the worst case scenario, if Pakistan’s present ‘descent into chaos’ continues, the nuclear question will become critical.
The US Congress is presently in the process of approving a legislation which triples non-military aid to Pakistan to total USD 7.5 billion over the next five years. Obama administration officials reportedly stated, moreover, that they had communicated to Congress that their intent was "to assure that military aid to Pakistan was directed toward counterterrorism and not diverted." Non-military aid is perceived by many a policymaker in the United States as an instrument in realizing the core American objective of neutralizing the threat from Taliban – al Qaeda in Pakistan. President Obama continues to believe that aid can create "reconstruction opportunity zones" in Pakistan. However, US aid to Pakistan has been overwhelmingly military oriented. Of a total of USD 12.3 billion in US aid to Pakistan since 2002, less than 27 per cent was in the realm of development and economic assistance.
Since 9/11, US funding, according to Azeem Ibrahim of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, has been intended for the following five purposes: to cover the extra cost to Pakistan’s military of fighting terrorism; to provide Pakistan with military equipment to fight terrorism; to provide development and humanitarian assistance; covert funds; and cash transfers directly to Pakistan’s budget. In a July 2009 paper, Azeem Ibrahim notes:
The United States has not been transparent about the funds. Until 2009, information has been either hidden from the public or released in a form too aggregated to allow for effective public oversight… The United States had inadequate procedures for checking how Pakistan spent the funds. US Embassy staff in Pakistan were not required to check how the Pakistani military actually spent U.S. funds, the Pakistani Army insisted that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) — where much of the money was to be spent — were too dangerous to visit, making sustained oversight there impossible… The Pakistani military did not use most of the funds for the agreed objective of fighting terror. Pakistan bought much conventional military equipment. Examples include F-16s, aircraft-mounted armaments, anti-ship and antimissile defense systems, and an air defense radar system costing $200 million, despite the fact that the terrorists in the FATA have no air attack capability. Over half of the total funds — 54.9 per cent — were spent on fighter aircraft and weapons, over a quarter — 26.62 per cent — on support and other aircraft, and 10 per cent on advanced weapons systems.
Moreover, there is also clear evidence of corruption within the Pakistani Army. For instance,
The United States provided $ 1.5 million to "reimburse Pakistan for damage to Navy vehicles which had not been used in combat, $15 million for the Pakistani Army to build bunkers for which there is no evidence that they exist, and about $30 million for Pakistani road-building for which there is no such evidence either. Fifty-five million dollars was provided for helicopter maintenance for the entire national helicopter fleet which was not performed. Pakistan continued to receive around $80 million per month for military operations during ceasefire periods when troops were in their barracks. U.S. officials visiting the FATA found Pakistani Frontier Corps units poorly equipped, one reporting that he saw members of the Corps "standing ... in the snow in sandals," with several wearing World War I–era pith helmets and carrying barely functional Kalashnikov rifles with "just 10 rounds of ammunition each".
[Ibrahim analysed documents recently disclosed by the US Government to compile a review of American aid to Pakistan]
Pentagon documents have reportedly revealed Pakistan has used a substantial proportion of military aid from the US meant to combat the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine, to boost its Army with modern weapons and equipment for conventional warfare against India. Pentagon documents revealed that most of the US defence supply to Pakistan after 9/11 under Foreign Military Financing had nothing to do with the war on terror.
There is more evidence of Pakistan’s abuse of trust. The federal government has virtually shelved a US-aided, multi-million dollar plan to reform madrassas (seminaries) considered nurseries of terrorism, as it has failed to garner the support of clerics, Daily Times reported on July 17, 2009. The government had initiated the project in 2002 in an attempt to introduce a secular curriculum in the seminaries. The project sought to introduce computer skills, science, social studies and English into the predominantly religious curriculum at thousands of madrassas across Pakistan. "We had a huge budget of Rs 5,759 million (USD 71 million) to provide madrassa students with formal education but we could not utilise it," Education Ministry spokesman Atiqur Rehman said. The Government failed to meet the target of reforming around 8,000 seminaries within five years. "We reached 507 madrassas only, spending Rs. 333 million and the rest of the [money] – Rs 5,426 million – has lapsed," Rehman said. "The Interior Ministry held talks with various madrassas... but many of them refused to accept the Government’s intervention," said Mufti Gulzar Ahmed Naeemi, a senior official of the Sunni clerics’ alliance, the Jamaat Ahl-e-Sunnat. Most of the officially estimated 13,000 seminaries (unofficial estimates range between 15,000 and 25,000, and in some cases go as high as 40,000) in Pakistan, with an approximate enrolment of 1.5 million students, have squarely rejected the tentative reforms – in essence requiring the registration of seminaries and the maintenance of accounts, including records of domestic and foreign donors, as well as the teaching of "secular" subjects as part of the proposed curriculum.
The US and others in the international community are apprehensive that an augmenting economic crisis in Pakistan will help al Qaeda and its local affiliates to further destabilise the country. The Asia Society, for instance, said in a report on April 2, 2009, that Pakistan needed up to $50 billion over the next five years to avoid an economic meltdown that risked turning the country over to militants. While this may be a risk, there are far more quantifiable problems within Pakistan which threaten to push the country over the tipping point. Essentially, however, the idea that one ought to inject huge amount of aid to help Pakistan stay afloat is fraught with great danger.
On the ground in Pakistan, the United States simply lacks the institutional capacity required to monitor the implementation of any of its targeted aid programmes. And since most aid is being routed through existing and largely unaccountable state channels within Pakistan, capacity-building and attempts to promote democracy are bound to suffer.
The Bush Administration in the past and now the Obama regime, have erroneously thought it fit to give Pakistan a carte blanche in the hope that Islamabad will combat terrorism. In fact, there exists a constituency within the US which now wants to provide aid as also arm Pakistan, irrespective of the situation. This idea of a no strings attached aid policy is, however, immensely dangerous not only for the region but for the US as well. Both the past trajectory and Pakistan’s current behaviour are testimony to the fact that none of the extensive aid packages has the potential to lead to a radical course correction in Pakistan. Neutralization of Islamist extremism in Pakistan will necessitate what scholar Ahmed Rashid describes as a "strategic paradigm shift by the government and the army." Such a shift, he argues, would affect domestic and foreign policy, relations with Pakistan's neighbours and mandate a different set of national interest priorities. Pakistan is most certainly not ready for any of these as yet and, more significantly, any abrupt course correction will threaten its very identity and existence. Consequently, there should now be a radical change in the framework of response by the international community, especially the US, which is the key interlocutor, when it comes to dealing with Pakistan.
No accountability exists for rogue regimes in Pakistan as far as their domestic and foreign policies are concerned. The system of aid with no penalties is counter-productive since a proportion of every dollar given as aid by the US or other donors eventually ends up, directly or indirectly, sustaining the jihad. Stringent conditionalities must be introduced in aid policies towards Pakistan and economic sanctions may, indeed, need to be imposed, since aid accountability is imperative to securing any of Washington’s and the international community’s goals in Pakistan.
Kanchan Lakshman is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management; Assistant Editor, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution. Courtesy the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal