Proposal to Reprogram Pakistani Military Aid into F-16s Generating Tension
On June 30/08, “US GAO Criticizes CSF Aid to Pakistan” discussed some of the tensions inherent in US aid to Pakistan, which has totaled several billion dollars since 2001. In addition to accounting and documentation issues, there have also been several instances in which the Pakistani military’s priorities and uses of its funds have diverged from the counter-terror focus intended by the US government.
Pakistan’s current status as a country with a larger and more active insurgency than Iraq’s has two seemingly paradoxical effects. On the one hand, it raises the stakes when “Coalition Support Funding” and other counter-terror aid is used for other military efforts or prestige projects instead. On the other hand, because the stakes are so high given Pakistan’s ownership of nuclear weapons, the USA’s leverage for dealing with questionable appropriations is reduced to some extent. Aid to Pakistan has always been as much about keeping its military and government on side as it has been about dealing with the Al-Qaeda/Taliban networks that currently control significant sections of the country along the Afghan border.
In late July 2008, all of these tensions exploded into view, as Pakistan proposed to redirect 2/3 of its 2008 aid into modernizing its older F-16 fighter fleet. The PAF wants to bring all of its F-16s to a standard that’s comparable to the new F-16 Block 50/52 aircraft it’s about to receive. The US State Department acquiesced; but Congress seems to be of a different mindset…
Pakistan is already undertaking a $5.1 billion combined program to purchase new F-16s, and upgrade the 1980s-vintage F-16A/Bs it bought in the 1980s.
Under the proposal put forward by the US State Department, $226 million would be taken from an approved $300 million allotment for other Pakistan anti-terror operations. The move has reportedly been prompted by soaring food and energy costs, which are creating fiscal pressures on the government.
Earlier flagship projects under the US military aid program included modernization of Pakistan’s P-3 Orion aircraft, and upgrades to its AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. P-3 maritime patrol are being used by the USA itself over Afghanistan, where its long loiter time and surveillance capabilities have proven to be very useful. Upgraded P-3s also have implications for the conventional balance of power in Pakistan’s section of the Indian Ocean, given their long-range anti-ship strike capabilities.
AFP quotes an anonymous State Department official as saying that the AH-1 upgrades will take place using different funding, though the GAO’s recent report indicates that fleet maintenance may be a more productive use of the funds. P-3 Orion funding, on the other hand, appears to be a casualty of the proposed change.
In response, July 29/08 saw a pair of key legislators move to suspend the reprogramming, and offer an alternative. Democratic lawmakers Howard Berman [D-CA, Chair House Foreign Affairs Committee] and Nita Lowey [D-NY, Chair of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs’ Appropriations Subcommittee], cited the FY 2008 fiscal year state and foreign operations bill, which specifically required that military aid to Pakistan be used for counterterrorism and law enforcement activities directed against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
While the situation in Pakistan is probably serious enough to warrant the use of air strikes against enemy strongholds, or in close-air support capacities, airpower is never a perfectly precise instrument. Its use has collateral effects on civilian support for the government that must be taken into account. The current civilian government’s emphasis on continuing Musharraf’s failed “Waziristan accords” strategy makes Pakistan’s F-16s a very unlikely counter-terror tool, unless the political situation shifts significantly.
The Berman-Lowey hold in the US Congress is not binding, but such holds are traditionally respected. The request asks for “…time for Congress to make a more considered judgment in consultation with the administration and the government of Pakistan.”
Meanwhile, a counterproposal in Congress would add $200 million in economic assistance to Pakistan, which has received around $1.5 billion in economic assistance from the USA over the past 2 years. This would presumably allow the Pakistani government to cope with other fiscal pressures, while preserving the intended uses of the CSF funding.