December 24, 2007

Lost In Translation

Both American and Pakistani officials now admit that the massive aid given to Pakistan since 9/11 has mostly missed the mark. Significant portions of the five billion dollars have gone to efforts to bolster defenses against India and reportedly to keep Pervez Musharraf safely ensconced in power instead of front-line units in Waziristan and the North West Frontier Province. The Pakistanis complain that Washington has yet to deliver the promised technology that could help them fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda more effectively:

After the United States has spent more than $5 billion in a largely failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, some American officials now acknowledge that there were too few controls over the money. The strategy to improve the Pakistani military, they said, needs to be completely revamped.

In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs. ...

For their part, Pakistani officials angrily accused the United States of refusing to sell Pakistan the advanced helicopters, reconnaissance aircraft, radios and night-vision equipment it needs.

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon has recently completed a new plan for intelligently disbursing aid and selling equipment to fight the terrorists. It puts the US more in control of how the money gets spent and how the units perform. The Times intimates that the previous strategy left these decisions in the hands of Pervez Musharraf, who promptly skimmed as much as 50% off the top and left the specific tasks the money intended to fund unperformed.

For instance, the US gave Pakistan $55 million for helicopter repair. Only $25 million of that made it through the Musharraf government to the army, and little repair and maintenance got accomplished. Now their helicopter fleet has major readiness problems at a time when the US needs Pakistan to conduct close air support for attacks on Swat and NWFP.

Pressing this case publicly could create problems for Musharraf and the army. The military leadership has complained that the US has shorted them since 9/11. If they realize how much of it went to Musharraf for his own purposes, it could destabilize the relationship between the army and Musharraf's civilian rule, although the chances of that will be rather small.

The lack of oversight on this process needed to end. In the beginning, it may have made some sense, as the primary purpose of the relationship with Musharraf was to sever him from the Taliban, which it did. Now, however, we need an effective Pakistani military to actually fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and we need to ensure that our money doesn't go to waste. This new plan sounds as though the Pentagon has learned a lesson from Iraq and from the Pakistani shell game that has been played over the past six years.

Bonus movie quote: "Russians don't take a dump, son, without a plan." Neither should the US. What actor delivered that line?


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