Saturday, July 26, 2008

US redeploys anti-terrorist aid for upgrading planes

For the last several years, there has been an ongoing political discussion about whether the United States is following the correct policies with regard to getting rid of terrorism emanating from the region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, rated by many as the most likely place to generate the next big terrorist attack in the Western World. Part of that discussion is whether the United States has relied too much on Pakistan, and not pushed it hard enough to get rid of the entire support structure for terrorism in the tribal border regions. Implicit in this discussion is that Pakistan is not really doing all it can to get rid of terrorism in the region, to take on the vast support for the Taleban and terrorist elements in the wild ungoverned regions. Now, Pakistan has always claimed that this was a difficult task, that these regions have historically had a reputation for resisting any attempts to enforce a central governance; and that periodic pushes by the Army and border guards have only met fierce resistance and let to further embittering of the population in these regions, thus leading to a further support for the so-called resistance fighters.
At some point it is difficult to blame only Pakistan for this. The US has had a huge amount of analysis that claims that there is a lack of governance, civil reconstruction, and enough boots on the ground in Afghanistan. What was required that there be a push to strengthen the regional paramilitary forces, combined with an active and huge construction program in these regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is when the affected population see only a military push, and the same old bad conditions with no scope for improvement that they tend to move further towards the extremist position. And in Pakistan, the Bush Administration seems to have had a blinkered vision with taking the actions of President Musharraf at face value, not applying the pressure that might have made things much better. For example, there has never been much pressure to improve the condition and training of the regional paramilitary force that might be able to help turn the tide.
All this came to my mind when I read this news report:

The United States plans to shift about $230 million in aid to Pakistan from counterterrorism programs to upgrading the nation's aging F-16 fighter jets. The new government is facing "a terrible financial crisis with food and fuel problems," the official said, and the Pakistani government "would rather tell its public they are spending their money on food and fuel," so it asked the United States to pay for the F-16 upgrades from the U.S. aid fund. Last year, Congress mandated that $300 million in aid to Pakistan go toward fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban, partly by beefing up law enforcement and developing tribal areas of the country that are hostile to the United States.
Skeptical lawmakers worry that the F-16 upgrades will divert funding from crucial counterterrorism programs and could be more about helping Pakistan competing with its rival, India, than fighting terror. Nita Lowey, chairwoman of a House subcommittee on foreign operations, said the request from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to reprogram the funding "raises serious concerns." Lowey is asking for more information before signing off on the change. "Congress provided these funds specifically for counterterrorism and law enforcement activities," Lowey said in a written statement.

This is about as short-sighted as can be. It is of critical importance that funds be spent on improving the lot of the tribal areas and improve the force that works over there. Instead, if these funds are used for improving F-16's, machines that are hardly of much use in anti-terrorism except when a force needs the support in a head-on fight with the terrorist, not something that is typically seen in the border regions.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:10 PM