er since 9/11, the United States has provided Pakistan with a steady supply of security and nonsecurity assistance. U.S. officials have justified these generous transfers—worth more than $30 billion since 2002—on the grounds that they secure Pakistan’s ongoing cooperation in Afghanistan, bolster Pakistan’s ability to fight terrorism, and give the U.S. government influence over the country’s ever-expanding nuclear weapons program. Failing to deliver this support, the argument runs, could dramatically weaken the will and capacity of Pakistan’s security forces and possibly even lead to the collapse of the Pakistani state. In that event, Pakistan’s nuclear know-how, material, or weapons could well fall into the hands of nefarious actors.
Yet that logic is fundamentally flawed. Many of the weapons Washington gives Islamabad are ill suited to fighting terrorism, and continued transfers will do nothing to convince the Pakistani government to end its long-standing support for terrorist groups. In fact, U.S. assistance gives Pakistan an incentive to foster a sense of insecurity concerning its nuclear arsenal and expanding ranks of jihadists.
Since the current approach has little chance of aligning Pakistan’s interests with those of the United States, the time has come for Washington to change course. If Washington cannot end Pakistan’s noxious behaviors, it should at least stop sponsoring them.
OLD HABITS DIE HARD
Pakistan’s reliance on militant proxies is as old as its very existence as an independent state. As early as 1947, when Pakistan was emerging from the collapse of the British Raj, the new government was backing anti-Indian tribal militias in the disputed territory of Kashmir. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, by 1950, Islamabad was promoting a Pakistan-based Islamist party known as Jamaat-e-Islami. Members of that party would later become prominent mujahideen who, with the backing of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), would go on to fight both Afghanistan’s pro-Soviet leaders and Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s. After 1989, Pakistan redeployed these battle-hardened fighters to Indian Kashmir, where they displaced indigenous secular nationalist insurgents in their battle against Indian rule in the province.
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