Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Without getting into the whole "should we cut off aid to Pakistan?" thing...

Let's talk for a second about the much-ballyhooed suspension by the U.S. of about $800M in military aid to Pakistan. The Los Angeles Times' Alex Rodriguez asked a couple of Pakistanis how these developments would impact the relationship between Washington and Islamabad, and unsurprisingly they had all sorts of dire predictions. Some folks went even further; though the aid pause is likely to have little effect on ongoing military operations,
Politically, however, it would be damaging to the relationship, said Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States, retired Major-General Mehmood Durrani said [sic], reflecting a widespread view in Pakistan that it was fighting America's war, for which Washington must reimburse it. 
"This is something that they have to pay, and if they don't then it's breach of agreement and breach of trust," he said.
Leaving aside the genuine, knee-slapping hilarity of being accused of breach of trust by representatives of the Pakistani security establishment, let's focus on exactly why this pause is happening: because the recipient is not meeting the conditions of the aid. I'm not talking generally about double-dealing, supporting anti-coalition insurgency, leaking sensitive operational information and intelligence, etc., but about the specific conditions of the aid that's being held up in this specific instance.

We're talking about two types of aid here: equipment and associated training on the one hand (the monetary value of which in this case is said to be about $500M), and reimbursement for counterinsurgency operations (totaling about $300M) on the other. When you see the $800M figure cited, that's not cash aid, but a combination of materiel and reimbursement funds.

There are two main reasons the aid is being withheld, and they're both very simple. One is that Pakistan is lately making a habit of denying visas to the U.S. military and contractor personnel that will train Pakistani security forces on the employment, maintenance, and long-term sustainment of the military equipment purchased for them with grant aid. When a country buys U.S. military equipment (or has it given to them as grant aid), it doesn't get to just sign for the crate. We're going to make sure you know how to use and maintain the damned thing correctly, that you're not going to waste our money by breaking it right after you tear off the wrapping paper, that you're not going to drive it without oil or try to fire the wrong projectile or strip it down and put on counterfeit rotor blades so you can sell the originals and pocket the difference, and so on. The USG wants reasonable assurances that its aid will actually be useful in serving its intended purpose, and this training (and associated long-term contractor logistics support) is one of the ways it gets those assurances. So it's simple: no visas, no trainers and support personnel, no stuff.

The second reason for the aid holdup is even more straightforward: Coalition Support Funds are meant to reimburse partner nations for military operations they've undertaken in support of U.S. forces*, but reimbursement is contingent on, you know, actually proving that you've conducted those operations. There's a method for the partner government to substantiate its expenses and have them validated by the Combatant Command before the USG just signs away the cash; by all accounts the Pakistanis have been resolute in their refusal to submit to the process.** So no, General Durrani, it's not "something that they have to pay" -- it's something that we've said we'll pay... just as long as you go ahead and meet your own obligations. But if that's too much trouble, ok, cool, fine with us. If you don't want to show daddy your report card, you're not gonna get your allowance.

There's a whole big-picture conversation we could have about whether or not it makes sense to provide military, development, and/or economic assistance to Pakistan, whether it advances our security aims, whether it provides us with any influence in the region, etc. But I want to make it clear that that's a whole different subject. This isn't happening because the USG is having second thoughts about the utility of the whole Pakistani aid program. The government is simply refusing to carry on with business as usual so long as the Pakistanis reject the long-standing conditions of these two types of aid.

When analysts and media talk about strained relations and the long-term prospects for cooperation, and about how aid could be resumed if Pakistan shows more aggressiveness against militancy and so on, they're just parroting the age-old talking points about the relationship and failing to explain to you just exactly what it is that this news is all about.

* Just for the record, Pakistan is the recipient of more than 80% of total CSF, and has gotten something like seven and a half billion dollars in reimbursements since FY02 (pdf).

** To be fair, the Pakistanis aren't the only ones responsible for this state of affairs: a 2008 GAO report (pdf) -- you really ought to read it in full if you care about this subject -- found that the Defense Department was not abiding by its own guidance on CSF oversight, which requires that reimbursement claims "contain quantifiable information that indicates the incremental nature of support (i.e., above and beyond normal operations), validation that the support or service was provided, and copies of invoices or documentation supporting how the costs were calculated." To put it even more bluntly, it was standard DoD practice until recently to simply write a check in response to Pakistani reimbursement claims without doing any of the analysis required to effectively steward taxpayer dollars.


  1. Posts like this one are the reason why I read blogs: because I learn things that I never would have even guessed from listening to CNN ...

  2. The problem with stuff like this is that we lie about our "allies" for so long and ignore the conditions of our own aid, CSF, etc, that once we decide to actually hold someone's feet to the fire, it seems to be a snap decision. Sometimes our STRATCOM is more confining than the actions of the enemy and others.