At a book launch in Washington this week, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani made the case that American financial aid to his country’s military over the years has served only to strengthen the armed forces above every other institution in society rather than improving the security situation.
He makes a compelling point. After all, billions in military aid to Pakistan failed to prevent key terrorist attacks over the last decade, and Osama bin Laden was holed up just a few miles from the nation’s premier military academy in Abbottabad when U.S. Navy SEALs found him two years ago. The Taliban has occasionally been able to seize large swaths of territory, including the Swat Valley in 2009, because the military establishment (which has swatted away elected leaders in the past) was more focused on the traditional Indian threat to the east.
Haqqani calls for a more pluralistic society where militant Islam is less influential and political elites aren’t pursued by a vindictive legal class, and one can’t easily disagree with so cogent an analysis of the nation’s dysfunctional politics. But the ambassador’s account might quickly become outdated: remember, recently-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has at least so far gotten along just fine with the military that ousted him in 1999, and there seems to be a realization among the army’s old guard that some semblance of democratic accountability is necessary. Likewise, the generals appear to be willing to let Sharif at least attempt to improve ties with New Delhi after a couple of rocky decades. So while no-strings-attached cash for Pakistan is certainly a questionable long-term strategy, there is a degree of hope on the horizon here. It’s left to the very military elites that have been coddled by the United States and its deep coffers for so long to permit the new political class (or in this case, an old P.M. back for his third term) to turn things around.