American security assistance to Pakistan has declined sharply over the past five years, raising the possibility of Islamabad drawing closer to Beijing.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon decided not to pay Pakistan $300 million in military reimbursements. The move was seen as the latest sign of strained relations between the once major allies, which is a matter of significance for India.
The growing strain in US-Pakistan relations can also be demonstrated by the decline in Washington’s yearly security and economic aid to Pakistan.
Economic aid has declined 53% from nearly $1.2 billion in 2011 to $561 million in 2015, according to the US government’s Congressional Research Service (CRS). Security aid fell 73% from nearly $1.3 billion in 2011 to $343 million in 2015.
The cancelled $300 million payments were in the form of coalition support funds (CSF) under which Pakistan has received over $14 billion since 2002, according to CRS.
The CSF accounted for “as much as one-fifth of Pakistan’s total military expenditures” from 2002 to 2014, the CRS reports, a measure of how important they were for cash-strapped Pakistan.
The CSF is meant to reimburse US-allied nations “for their operational and logistical support of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations.” In 2001, Pakistan became the US’s “front-line ally” in its battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, making it eligible for payments under the CSF programme. Pakistan received compensation for allowing the US-led coalition to use its seaports and airfields during its Afghan intervention.
CSF is not the same as economic and security aid, of which Pakistan still remains a major – if shrinking – recipient. Pakistan has used CSF payments to support the deployment of over 100,000 troops in its insurgency-hit north-west region. The Pentagon has reported that nearly half the funds are used for food and ammunition.
CSF accounts for 43% of $32.2 billion worth of US government financial transfers to Pakistan from 2002 to 2015, according to the CRS. Economic aid comprises 33% of transfers at $10.6 billion followed by 24% in security aid at $7.6 billion.
The recent $300 million worth of CSF funds were blocked because US defence secretary Ash Carter did not certify whether Pakistan had done enough to counter terrorist groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.
“Pakistan’s double game has long frustrated American officials, and it has grown worse”, the New York Times wrote in a recent editorial.
Pakistan itself is a victim of terrorism which has killed 20,877 civilians and 6,370 security forces from 2003 to 2015, according to data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal. In addition, terrorism has cost Pakistan’s economy $115 billion between 2004-05 to 2014-15.
Pakistan has launched military operations against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is behind several attacks in its territory.
Islamabad has however largely ignored the Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban and has used them to “protect Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and prevent India from increasing its influence there,” according to the New York Times.
Under its Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, the US planned to sell Pakistan eight F-16 fighter jets at a cost of $270 million. However, in May this year, following bipartisan opposition by the US Congress, the sale was approved but the subsidies were cancelled, requiring Pakistan to pay the actual cost of $700 million. Pakistan did not purchase the aircraft as it could not afford them.
The move was seen by India as a diplomatic coup which came after widespread lobbying in the US Congress by the Indian government and Indian Americans. It demonstrates a shift in the US’s treatment of Pakistan, which for decades has been a beneficiary of US subsidies that have boosted its military capability and formed a large part of its arsenal.
India has opposed US arms transfers to Pakistan as it feels Islamabad will use them against it.
Pakistan has or still is in the process of receiving nearly $1.2 billion worth of weapon systems from the US since 2001, paid entirely by Washington through FMF, according to the CRS. This includes, eight P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft worth $474 million and 20 AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters which cost American taxpayers $48 million.
In April last year, the US State Department approved a $952 million foreign military sales deal to give Pakistan 15 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters and 1,000 Hellfire II missiles. On April 5, 2016, the US agreed to pay $170 million for nine of these helicopters and additional fuel kits for Pakistan.
It is also getting mid-life update kits for 60 F-16A/B fighter jets already in its inventory at a cost of $892 million, of which the US paid $477 million through FMF.
Since 2001, Pakistan has paid or is still paying $2.5 billion for US arms. This includes big ticket items such as $1.43 billion entirely for 18 new F-16C/D Block 52 Fighting Falcon combat aircraft and additional armaments for the aircraft at a cost of $629 million.
Under the US’s Excess Defence Articles (EDA) program, Pakistan has received 14 F-16A/B Fighting Falcon combat aircraft and 374 M113 armoured personnel carriers at a reduced price, which has not been mentioned. These are all essentially used arms which the US gave Pakistan during its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Under the CSF, the US has given Pakistan 26 Bell 412EP utility helicopters valued at $235 million.
There’s also the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund which ended in 2013. Under this, the US gave 450 vehicles for the Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, 4 Mi-17 multirole helicopters and more.
The US has also funded the training of over 2,000 Pakistani military officers.
The apparent US-Pakistan estrangement could however bring Islamabad closer to its all-weather friend (and India’s other regional rival) China.