By Shep Gerszberg
The U.S. gives aid abroad for various reasons, whether it be to coerce them to do what we want on specific issues, to aid with development in struggling countries, or to aid in developing technologies benefiting both countries. When a country takes our money, it comes with certain expectations; expectations that, if broken, force the U.S. to respond accordingly.
Which is why last week’s move by the Trump administration to cut off Pakistan’s military aid was the right one.
Put simply, Pakistan has been fleecing the U.S. for years. We give them money for a specific reason: their help in fighting the Taliban and other groups in Afghanistan. With their help, we could shorten the time we need to be in Afghanistan, expedite the quashing of Islamic militant groups in the region, and spend more time strengthening the government in Kabul, making them self-sufficient. Those things are well worth the amount of money we are sending over there.
It is important to recognize the money we spend on foreign aid is less than 1 percent of the budget. Compared to the amount we are spending in Afghanistan, that is microscopic. If Pakistan were living up to their end of the bargain this would be a great deal for the U.S.
But the fact is that they are not.
Pakistan has been taking our money and maintains links with various Taliban factions, specifically, the Haqqani network. Through these links, they could greatly aid us in putting an end to the terror attacks these groups commit, but choose not to. Instead, they aid these groups both directly and indirectly.
Additionally, they support militant groups in the Kashmir region committing attacks against India. How can we continue to give them military aid when this is the case? It would send a bad message to other countries we give aid to that they can ignore us and keep taking our money. It is a waste of taxpayer resources and actively harms our interests in the region because we would be funding both sides of the conflict.
The move to cut off their aid was the right one, but the question must be asked, what now? I appreciate the Trump administration’s move to cut off the funding, but that can’t be all.
I hope that the strong and nuanced minds in Trump’s foreign policy staff, like Defense secretary James Mattis, understand that. Just cutting funding and doing nothing else is dangerous. Pakistan is a nuclear power with ties to militant factions and the nightmare scenario, however unlikely it may be, is that they give nuclear materials to militant groups.
We are also potentially losing out on valuable intelligence we do get from sources within Pakistan and important supply routes to Afghanistan that pass through Pakistani airspace. It is important to recognize the nuance here: foreign policy is never black and white, never simple. Cutting off funding to Pakistan was the right move overall, but, as with any significant action in the international arena, it comes with sacrifices.
We need to work with allies in the region like individuals in Kabul and India to lessen the blow of lost intelligence. We need to work with China to keep Pakistan under control while the cuts are in place but also impress upon them the need to maintain regional stability. China does not want a rogue Pakistan any more than we do.
Analysts are split as to whether China can even serve the role for Pakistan that the U.S. has been serving. According to the New York Times, Muhammed Umer Daudzai, a former Afghan interior minister and ambassador to Pakistan, said that Pakistan had developed region allies, such as China, which could help them fill the holes that the lack of U.S. funding will leave.
However, Davood Moradian, the director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies in Kabul, said that he does not think Pakistan can survive sustained U.S. pressure. That he does not think China can step into the U.S. role in a timely fashion, that the Pakistani system is too U.S.-oriented. This is a good sign for the usefulness of this cut to impress upon Pakistan the need for change.
But the key is using our diplomatic tools to convince countries like China to avoid attempting to step in. They want us to stabilize Afghanistan as much as we want to. Islamic militant groups gaining power in Afghanistan does not help China, Russia, India, or any other growing or established power in the region.
Cutting military aid to Pakistan was a good first step in reigning in this troubled country, but the question is does the Trump administration understand the nuance needed to follow it up, and understand the need for diplomacy with regional powers to ensure the cuts serve their intended purpose as a push for Pakistan to move in the right direction.