Pakistan policy of the US: Time for more sticks, fewer carrots
The appointment of Lisa Curtis as the senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council augurs a more punitive approach to Pakistan than the Obama Administration. The Trump Administration appears to be ready to take a much harder line against this rogue nation.analysis Updated: Aug 02, 2017 08:04 IST
From my perch a few blocks from the State Department and the White House, and just across the river from the Pentagon, I am starting to see the signs that a policy shift is afoot in the U.S. position vis-à-vis its unreliable ally, Pakistan. The Trump Administration appears to be ready to take a much harder line against this rogue nation. The appointment of Lisa Curtis as the senior director for South and Central Asia at the National Security Council augurs a more punitive approach to Pakistan than the Obama Administration, which gave more military and economic aid to Pakistan than any previous administration in an effort to bribe the country into action against the terrorists hiding out in plain sight within its borders. On the contrary, Curtis has recommended that any future aid to Pakistan be calibrated against Pakistan’s ending its support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.
In a Hudson Institute report that she co-authored earlier this year with Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, the two policy experts recommended that Pakistan be punished swiftly if these milestones are not met: stripping Pakistan of its major non-NATO ally (MNNA) status and designating it a state sponsor of terrorism. Ambassador Haqqani reiterated these recommendations in a July 6 New York Times editorial. In other words, more sticks and fewer carrots. Now that Curtis is in charge of the US’ policy towards South Asia and ostensibly has the ear of the nation’s National Security Advisor and President Trump, she is in a position to initiate and implement these recommendations.
These policy changes are long overdue. As I state emphatically in my newly released book, Neighbours in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent, Pakistan should be treated like North Korea — like a rogue state. The only reason Pakistan is not a totally failed state is that countries like China and the United States continue to prop it up with massive amounts of foreign aid. Unless Pakistan changes its ways with respect to terrorism, it should be declared a terrorist state. Indeed, the first Bush administration seriously considered doing so in 1992. Pakistan’s leaders have essentially blackmailed us into providing aid for the war on terror with threats to cease assistance in rooting out terrorists in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, we know fully well that Pakistan harbours terrorists, and many military leaders believe terrorists have infiltrated Pakistan’s ranks. We let Pakistan use US taxpayer money to build their nuclear weapons programme. Why do we now let them use US taxpayer money to harbour terrorists? Without our money and military supplies, Pakistan would be powerless. Why do we continue to call Pakistan an ally? Why do we continue to be blackmailed?
The Pressler Amendment is also wrongly blamed for political instability in Pakistan during its enforcement period. That is just nonsense — there was just as much instability in Pakistan before the Pressler Amendment. Critics will say that, during that time, Iran and Saudi Arabia started fuelling sectarianism in Pakistan. The truth of the matter is that the Pressler amendment did slow down Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, and I think the public attention forced Pakistan to be much more careful and transparent. The underlying policy objectives at the heart of the Pressler Amendment clearly have had a long-lasting impact, even if inconsistently enforced.
The US Congress is tired of Pakistan’s lies and games. It cut off $300 million in aid and blocked government funding for the transfer of F-16 aircraft last year. Congress knows squeezing them financially is the only leverage that really works. Curtis and Ambassador Haqqani understand this as well. They are old enough to remember the Pressler Amendment and its impact on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Named after me, it was enforced under President George H.W. Bush in 1990 when he could not certify that Pakistan did not have a nuclear weapon. As a result, all aid to Pakistan was immediately cut off. It was the ultimate diplomatic “stick.” Unfortunately, the generals in the Pentagon continued to find ways to fund the generals in Islamabad and the Pressler Amendment’s effectiveness and enforcement withered. Today, another type of Pressler Amendment is needed to force Pakistan to reject the terrorists in its midst. Hopefully, the new regime at the White House and in Congress will make it happen. Oddly enough, the election of Donald Trump as president might be the best thing for the relationship between the world’s two largest democracies.
Senator Larry Pressler served in the United States Congress for 22 years