Congress stymies counter-terrorism

S Qamar Afzal Rizvi

There must be no iota of doubt that US Congress’ anti-Pakistan moves—first its stopping the sale of F-16 to Pakistan on subsidised rates, and second its notion of withholding $450m development aid to Pakistan—are glaring indications of the fact that Pak-US counter-terrorism policy faces big challenges ahead. Despite Richard Olson’s proactive diplomacy regarding US F-16 sale deal to Pakistan, the US congress has created a bottleneck in it.By all fair calculations, the Congress’ revisionist approach has put a great question mark on US’s counter-terrorism policy. “…while Congress has approved the sale, key members have made clear that they object to using Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to support it. Given congressional objections, we have told the Pakistanis that they should put forward national funds for that purpose,” US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said.
The US administration took this step with directions from US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker because only Congress has the authority to dispense or withhold the funds, the official said. As a result of this move, Pakistan may have to foot the bill of $700 million for the eight fighter jets.The original plan was to sell eight F-16s to Pakistan and finance most of the $699 million deal through FMF. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Republican Bob Corker and Democratic Ranking Member Ben Cardin, in early March, announced that they would not approve FMF for Pakistan until it demonstrated “behavioral changes” in its support of terrorism and its dealings with India. The State Department, however, maintained that the sale of eight F-16s to Pakistan would assist counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency operations. In February 2016, State Department spokesperson Helaena W. White said, “Pakistan’s current F-16s have proven critical to the success of these operations to date,” and endorsed Pakistan’s position that it had effectively used its existing fleet of F-16s in counter-terrorism operations.
F-16s provide a critical counter-terrorism capability to Pakistan and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has made extensive use of its aging F-16 fleet to support Pakistan Army operations in the Swat Valley and in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). According to information furnished by the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, the PAF flew 93 sorties in August 2008 in operations against the Taliban. However, their current model F-16 can be used for close air support missions only in daylight and good visibility with a minimal risks of collateral damage.
As for Pakistan’s government and its people, this is not for the first time that the US Congress or its administration has disappointed them. Pakistanis are not yet out of the bad memories about the Pressler amendment in 1990. The feelings of anti-Americanism have had been fawned by manifold developments: the Raymond Davis incident; US’s Abbottabad operation; and the controversial drone strikes in Pakistan. Undeniably, what Pakistan is facing today is the boomerang effect of Regan’s sponsored Jehadism via Mujahedeen against the Russians in Afghanistan. If the US administration had given a serious consideration to the needed task of ‘rehabilitating and reconstructing’ the post Soviet Afghanistan, there would have been no such evolution of ‘radicalisation and extremism’ in the region.
The simple fact to be realised by the US law makers is that Pakistani is the front line state on this US-waged war on terror; such is not the case with India. Since Pakistan has been a key ally of Washington; it has contributed more than any other coalition partner of the US in this ongoing War against Terrorism including sacrifices of more than than 50,000 civilians, including 6,000 security personnel, in the fight against terrorism during the past decade.
The country has lost US$103 billion (S$135 billion), the direct and indirect costs of terrorism incidents. It captured many high value Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists thus extending full length support to the US military and law enforcement agencies in rooting out terrorists’ network. After successful military operations against terrorists in Swat Valley and South Waziristan Agency, the Pakistan Army has now launched Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan Agency and Khyber Agency, respectively.
And this fact about Pakistan’s epic role in the US-waged war on terror has been recently admitted by the US Secretary of State John Kerry. ‘’ We recognise the extraordinary and real sacrifices that Pakistan’s military, especially in Operation Zarb-i-Azb and the ongoing missions in North Waziristan, and the United States has pledged USD 250 million to help rebuild the communities of persons who have been displaced by the fighting in these operations,” he said. “We’ll also continue to coordinate with Pakistan on the overall counter-terrorist strategy, and we recognise that every country can do more to intensify to destroy and defeat violent radical extremists,” he added.
And yet contrary to what has been admired by the US secretary of State, Congress has withheld $450m that it previously agreed to pay Pakistan. Should not this Congress’ act towards Pakistan be taken as a token of retribution— against the sacrifices that have been rendered by the Pakistani forces in this 15 years long war against terrorism— is the most striking question storming into the minds of Pakistanis?
It looks holistically awesome that US Congress seems much touchy about the Indian concern; it pays no heed and attention regarding Pakistani posed security concerns— about its eastern and western borders—which are recently much reactivated by RAW’s collaborated evil role against Pakistan. Seen pragmatically and realistically, the conflation of the Indo-Pakistan conflict with the counter-terrorism aid, under the influence of some parochial lobbyists in Washington, neither redounds to the US’s credibility as a reliable anti-terror coalition partner, nor to the efficacy of a puissant counter-terror strategy in Afghanistan.
While US’s counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism goals are not completed to the hilt, the Congress’ shaky appraisal about Pakistan’s role in the war on terror would orchestrate multiple negative effects— in so far as the peace in Afghanistan remains the end-all and be-all objective of the US waged global war on terrorism—causing great risks to fulfilling the gaps that paradoxically define US’s South Asia policy, thereby also causing setback and confusion regarding Pak-US counter-terrorism goals in Afghanistan. There is yet a bumpy road ahead towards achieving a lasting peace in Afghanistan.
— The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher based in Karachi.

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