Courtesy: The News International
Mariana Baabar is a senior Pakistani journalist and diplomatic editor of the Islamabad-based newspaper, The News International and also contribute for Outlook India.
Where has US aid to Pakistan gone? Mariana Baabar [STORY APPEARED IN 2007]
ISLAMABAD : The billions of dollars in US military aid to Pakistan since September 11, 2001, without any accountability, has now been billed as a “tsunami of new funding”.
Washington’s Centre for Public Integrity, in its report, says that today human rights activists, critics of the Pakistani government and members of Congress want to know, where most of the money — totalling in the billions — coming through a Defence Department programme, subject to virtually no Congressional oversight, has disappeared to.
The Centre says that this is a major finding of more than a year of investigation by the Centre for Public Integrity’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). US military aid to Pakistan since September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks includes almost $5 billion in coalition support funds, a programme controlled by the Defence Department to reimburse key allies in the global war on terror. Pentagon reports that the ICIJ obtained through the Freedom of Information Act requests show that Pakistan is the No 1 recipient of these funds — receiving more than 10 times the amount that went to the No 2 recipient, Poland — and that there is scant documentation of how the money was used.
Pakistan also benefited from other funding mechanisms set up in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks. In three years after the attacks, Pakistan was the third-largest recipient of the Pentagon’s new regional defence counter terrorism fellowship programme, designed to train foreign forces in counter terrorism techniques. More than $23 million was earmarked for Pakistan in fiscal 2006 for “improving counter terrorism strike capabilities” under another new Pentagon programme referred to colloquially as Section 1206 training, which allows the Pentagon to use a portion of its annual funding from Congress to train and equip foreign militaries. Pakistan finished first in the race for this new Pentagon-controlled training.
The US State Department rates Pakistan’s human rights record as poor and reports a long litany of abuses. That nourishes critics’ claims that the US largesse has been put to abusive purposes, including to buy weapons that have been turned against Pakistani civilians and to offer bounties on suspects the US is seeking. According to Senator Sana Baloch, an opposition lawmaker who fled the country out of safety concerns, the US has several military bases inside Pakistan, including some in the senator’s home province of Balochistan. “Most of the US bases are based in Balochistan,” Baloch told ICIJ in an interview. “One or two of them are in Kharan, my own home district. The US is using the bases in this area for the war on terror. We are very supportive of the US in this role.”
The majority of the new US funding to Pakistan has come in the form of billions of dollars of coalition support funds (CSF), a post-9/11 funding mechanism created to reimburse key countries for expenses incurred in supporting American counter terrorism operations. According to K Alan Kronstadt, an expert on South Asia at the Congressional research service, by August 2006, CSF accounted for roughly $4.75 billion of the military aid Pakistan received from the US since the terrorist attacks. Pentagon documents obtained by ICIJ say the money that went to Pakistan was largely for “military operations on the Afghanistan border.”
Coalition support funds are considered a reimbursement by some and a blank check by others. Craig Cohen, the co-author of a recent Centre for Strategic and International Study on US aid to Pakistan, asked rhetorically whether CSF money is “intended to yield some sort of specific action on the part of the government,” adding, “If so, there’s clearly no oversight.”
Olga Oliker, an expert on US defence policy and co-author of a recent RAND think tank report on the human rights performance of internal security forces in South Asia, said she’s concerned that US-made weapons that go to Pakistani security forces and US training that the forces receive are being used against civilian populations. “In implementing assistance,” she told ICIJ, “the US has paid relatively little attention to human rights abuses and oversight. People weren’t paying attention.”
The new Democratic-controlled Congress has taken a greater interest in CSF payments to Pakistan. Under the previous GOP majority, there was virtually no oversight of CSF payments to any country. In January 2007, the House of Representatives acted to impose conditions on military aid to Pakistan by adopting the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007. Section 1442 of the bill relates to Pakistan. It identifies areas of concern for US policy, including the need for Pakistan to curb the proliferation of nuclear technology, to address the presence of the Taliban and other extremist forces and to secure its borders to prevent movement of terrorists. The bill would impose limits on foreign assistance to Pakistan, declaring that the US assistance may not be approved until “the president determines and certifies to the appropriate Congressional committees that the government of Pakistan is making all possible efforts to prevent the Taliban from operating in areas under its sovereign control. “In addition, Pakistan would be required to demonstrate that it is making significant steps toward free and fair parliamentary elections in 2007.” The bill also requires that the president submit a report describing the long-term strategy of US engagement with Pakistan.
“The American-supplied military arsenal has been used against Baloch nationalists,” Senator Baloch told ICIJ. He said he and others have gone to the State Department, “and the State Department says [the US has] given military hardware with no conditions.” A former US official, previously based in Pakistan, acknowledged to the ICIJ that in Balochistan “the [Pakistani] army stepped in with a pretty heavy hand last year.”