The Obama Criteria

President-elect Barack Obama is about to announce his foreign policy team.No matter who is on it, Obama promises that the policy will be set by him. Nowhere is his intellect more needed than on policy towards Pakistan.

On 1 Aug 2007 Obama said:

The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said he would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid to Pakistan conditional on the following actions by the Pakistani government:

  1. substantial progress in closing down terrorist training camps
  2. evict foreign fighters
  3. prevent the Taleban from using Pakistan as staging area for attacks in Afghanistan

I have not heard a clearer analysis yet. There is more:

If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.

This got him in some trouble with other candidates. He was accused of being naive, by the same people who were soon to accuse him of being too calculating and ruthless. The Bush administration expressed outrage that Obama was threatening a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Then quietly they adopted Obama’s policy. Attacks by US controlled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles on terrorist camps in Waziristan are now routine. As with timelines for a withdrawal from Iraq, Obama’s apostasy is now the dogma.

But, the most crucial component of Obama’s policy is to hold the military in Pakistan accountable. It is an inherently unhealthy situation for the military of a supposedly sovereign country to be paid for by another. However benign that relationship, it is fraught with danger of abuse. Without the power of the purse, the Civilian Government will answer to the military and not vice versa. Pakistani military receives three billion dollars in direct military aid from the US spread over 5 years, starting FY2005.

Ayesha Siddiqa’s book Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military documents the damage to Pakistan caused by the Army’s control over its Civil Institutions. US direct Aid to the military ( as opposed to humanitarian aid or aid to its Civilian Government) is part of the problem, because it makes the Army accountable to no one. It is the one thing we can control in a chaotic situation.

So what has the US got in return for its money? Bush placed his bets on Musharraf. Following the pattern of American policy in South America, Musharraf was thought of as “an SOB, but our SOB”. The consequences were disastrous for both Pakistan and the US. Not only did Musharraf not do much to fight the terrorists over there, he entered into a treaty with them, essentially giving them safe passage in the frontier regions.Link

Now Mushie is out, and a Civilian Government is in. Their military still claims to be cracking down on terrorists within the borders of Pakistan. Yet, at least one of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai last week is from Pakistan. There is now clear evidence of cell phone calls between him and terrorist groups operating out of Pakistan during the attacks. At the very least, the Pakistani Army is ineffective.

The Obama’s original analysis remains valid. Military Aid to Pakistan must be reviewed to see if it meets his three conditions. If it does not it must be cut. Or converted into humanitarian aid delivered by Non-Governmental Organizations or by the Civilian Government.


1. Just found this on the net:
Article by Obama advisor Bruce Reidel on terrorism.

For the last several months India and Pakistan had been improving their bilateral relationship. Pakistan’s new President Asif ali Zardari had made several positive statements about his desire to ease tensions with India, including a pledge that Pakistan would adhere to a no first use of nuclear weapons doctrine, a major change in Islamabad’s position. Trade has been opened across the line of control in Kashmir, albeit in small amounts, for the first time in sixty years. Zardari has also promised to get control over the ISI and to stop its policy of both chasing and supporting terrorism in Pakistan. His ability to do so is still very much in doubt

2. This NYTimes artilce from June 2 2008 shows how openly the murderer of Benazir Bhutto operates in Pakistan
Taliban Leader Flaunts Power Inside Pakistan

American and Pakistani officials accuse Mr. Mehsud of masterminding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, in December and sending scores of suicide bombers here and in Afghanistan, while forging a symbiotic relationship with Al Qaeda on Pakistan’s frontier.

In South Waziristan, they run training camps for suicide bombers, some of them children, according to the former Taliban member. Their realm is so secure that in April Mr. Mehsud’s umbrella group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, held a conference of thousands of fighters that culminated in a public execution, according to a local resident.

But he managed to enhance his stature through the ambivalence — or protection, according to some officials — of the Pakistani authorities, say former Pakistani military officials and tribal leaders. His strength grew quickly after February 2005, when the military, then under the control of President Pervez Musharraf, signed a peace deal with him.

“That was when I knew the army was not serious,” said a tribal leader who has dealt with Mr. Mehsud and would not be named for safety reasons. “If the army took firm action they could crush him in two months.

Instead, the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence, the overarching Pakistani intelligence agency, wanted to keep Mr. Mehsud “in reserve,” said the tribal leader, who is also a former military officer.

In essence, the Pakistani authorities stuck to a long-standing policy of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan as a bulwark against its enemy India, and Mr. Mehsud was a tool in that game, he said.

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