How long will the US assist Pakistan?

Published: January 12, 2015
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That the state department spokeswoman would even suggest the discontinuation of aid leads one to wonder if that is, in fact, the sentiment within the state department.

State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki went off the cuff last week to announce that Pakistan has not received any development assistance from the United States since 2013. That was news – Pakistani papers Express Tribune and Dawn headlined it. But it was wrong. Congress released funding to Pakistan in September 2014. 

Under the “Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB)” bill, Congress authorised $1.5 billion in development assistance for Pakistan for five years, from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2015. But because USAID must get Congressional blessing of its program plans before it gets the money, money rarely comes through in the year it is budgeted for.

So Pakistan received funds budgeted for fiscal year 2013,which ends October 2013, almost a year late, in September 2014. In short, the State Department Spokeswoman has her fiscal years and calendar years mixed up.

There are a number of bureaucratic hurdles that slow down the money, which can be blamed on a labyrinth of interactions between and within agency offices. This includes the bane of every bureaucrat’s existence – the clearance process.

This led to the second confusion of the week.

A budget plan that starts in USAID offices at the embassy in Islamabad gets cleared by the USAID mission director which then gets cleared by various state department offices at the embassy and finally gets cleared by the ambassador. At this point, Ambassador Olson must have decided to share the good news that he had done his part with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

Then, for some reason, the finance ministry decide to release a statement saying that,

“The ambassador said that the Congress has notified a $532 million assistance package for Pakistan.”

Well, we know this isn’t true because there’s no such thing as “Congress notifying funds”. Congress approves funds notified to them by the administration. Once Congress approves, funds are released.

Secondly, Olson’s clearance of the notification is only half of the clearance process. The notification of funds must ultimately be cleared by the state department in Washington DC and then sent to Congress from there.

But the most interesting part of the Psaki’s representation of bureaucratic truths was the implication that funds were deliberately being held up because the administration could not “certify” that Pakistan is “cooperating with the United States in counter-terrorism efforts against the Haqqani Network, the Quetta Shura Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM), al Qaeda, and other domestic and foreign terrorist organisations” – a Congressional requirement necessary for the release of funds.

The certification was made only once, in March 2011.

And then Osama bin Laden was found in Abbottabad.

Secretary Hilary Clinton faced a lot of heat for the certification and was criticised for not taking the certification requirements seriously enough. Since then, the administration has exercised the option of “waiving” the certification requirement on national security grounds.

The exercise reeks of the Pressler Amendment – a law that required the administration to certify throughout the late 1980s that Pakistan was not developing a nuclear weapon in order for Congress to release assistance moneys. The US government knew that Pakistan was developing such a weapon and Pakistanis knew they knew, but the administration made the certification anyways. But in 1990, when the Soviets left Afghanistan, Ambassador Robert Oakley informed Islamabad that the certification could no longer be made and military and economic aid would be suspended.

That the State Department Spokeswoman would even suggest the discontinuation of aid leads one to wonder if that is, in fact, the sentiment within the state department. That waivers are being used instead of the certification does not bode well. And with the war winding down in Afghanistan, neither does history.

Dawn released a second story that got the details right. It also toned down the alarmism, quoting the spokeswoman as saying that economic assistance will continue this year, the final year of the bill. But the bigger question relates to military assistance and how long Congress will continue to accept that the United States must assist Pakistan’s military in a fight it does not believe it is sincerely committed to. With Secretary Kerry – KLB’s namesake – visiting Pakistan this week, it should give them plenty to talk about.

Nadia Naviwala

Nadia Naviwala

A university instructor in US Foreign Policy based in Islamabad. She has served as Pakistan Desk Officer at USAID and a National Security Aide in the US Senate. She is a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School. She tweets @NadiaNavi (twitter.com/NadiaNavi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.