Foreign Policy is not Pretty: India-Pakistan Edition

Pakistan diverted American counter-terrorism assistance to buy weapons to use against India. The Bush Administration knew about it, and did nothing. And that might have been the right course.

Headlines today in the Times of India and the Deccan Chronicle with a disturbing, and to me initially outrageous story:

The Pentagon has confirmed one of South Asia’s worst kept secrets – that Pakistan has used billions of dollars of US aid to buy a mind-boggling array of conventional American weaponary to use against India.

The aid was meant for Pakistan to fight the war on terror. India has repeatedly pointed out that much of the military hardware on Pakistan’s shopping list was not suited to anti-terror operations. Now, Pentagon reports have revealed that even the money poured into Islamabad’s coffers by the Bush administration fter 9/11 specifically to fight al Qaida and the Taliban, was used to develop offensive capabilities against India.

The Pentagon reports detail the brazen diversion of funds given to Pakistan between 2002 and 2009 and the Pervez Musharraf government — often described by George W Bush as America’s “strong” ally in the “war against terror” – to acquire arms ranging from anti-tank missiles to F 16s. The arsenal was meant to blunt India’s edge in conventional weaponry

So let me get this straight. Pakistan busily supports the Taliban for several years, winks at Al-Qaeda presence in its northwest frontier provinces, and sponsors terrorism in Kashmir and Bombay. In return for this, we let them spend counterrorism funds to prepare for war against democratic India, which we are trying to develop better relations with. Who are these morons?

And then I thought about it a little more.

Pakistan isn’t going to fight a conventional war against India. It lost horribly the last time it tried, and if anything, the correlation of forces has tilted toward India since then. Islamabad has a nuclear deterrent, and in any event, it can bleed New Delhi much more effectively and cheaply by sponsoring terrorists.

“Counterrorism” im Pakistan is a predominantly a political effort, not a military one. That means we need allies within Pakistan. One potential ally is the military: the generals might become a countervailing force against Pakistani intelligence, which has tight links with the Taliban and al-Qaeda and operates outside the military chain of command.

So, the thinking might go, this military hardware is a way of buying allies in Pakistan: that weaponry thus is counter-terrorism hardware. Let the generals and admirals have their toys; they’ll realize that it makes sense to work with the US, and they can try to undermine the ISI within Pakistan.

That might work. That might not work. But nothing else has. And it’s not crazy or unreasonable. It’s just really, really ugly. Get me some Pepto-Bismol.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.