The runaway winner of the post-9/11 race for new U.S. military aid dollars is Pakistan, but where did the money go?
Human rights activists, critics of the Pakistani government and members of Congress all want to know, but most of the money — totaling in the billions — came through a Defense Department program subject to virtually no congressional oversight.
That is a major finding of more than a year of investigation by the Center for Public Integrity’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). U.S. military aid to Pakistan since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks includes almost $5 billion in Coalition Support Funds, a program controlled by the Defense Department to reimburse key allies in the global war on terror. Pentagon reports that ICIJ obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests show that Pakistan is the No. 1 recipient of these funds — receiving more than 10 times the amount that went to the No. 2 recipient, Poland — and that there is scant documentation of how the money was used.
Pakistan also benefited from other funding mechanisms set up in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks. In the three years after the attacks, Pakistan was the third-largest recipient of the Pentagon’s new Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program, designed to train foreign forces in counterterrorism techniques. More than $23 million was earmarked for Pakistan in fiscal 2006 for “Improving Counter Terrorism Strike Capabilities” under another new Pentagon program referred to colloquially as Section 1206 training, which allows the Pentagon to use a portion of its annual funding from Congress to train and equip foreign militaries. Pakistan finished first in the race for this new Pentagon-controlled training.
ICIJ’s data show that when all U.S. programs are combined, Pakistan’s increase in U.S. military aid in the three years after 9/11 is a stunning 50,000 percent, growing from just $9 million in the three years before the attacks to nearly $4.7 billion in the three years after. In the process, Pakistan has become the No. 3 recipient of U.S. military training and assistance, trailing only longtime leaders Israel and Egypt.
This tsunami of new funding reflects Pakistan’s key role in the U.S. global war on terror. Shortly after 9/11, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s leader, made a commitment to align his regime with the United States as it went after Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda forces that were being protected by the Islamist Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan.
Since Musharraf closed ranks with the U.S., Pakistan’s financial rewards have been bountiful — and he has been the target of several assassination attempts and plots. On a visit to the U.S. in 2006, Musharraf told television interviewers that he made the commitment to join the war on terror after threats from the U.S., which Bush administration officials have denied. More recently, the administration has accused Musharraf of turning a blind eye to Taliban and al Qaeda operations in his own country, and critics in the U.S. and abroad have assailed U.S. support for Musharraf.
Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, and, after Indonesia, the second largest Muslim-majority country. Violence and political instability have characterized the country throughout its history. Pakistan is teeming with intrigue; it is home to some of the world’s most vocal anti-American clerics and to religious schools that have served as recruiting grounds for the Taliban and other Islamist extremist groups. In tribal areas near the Afghanistan border, some leaders support the Taliban, and its largest province, Balochistan, has long been unstable and barely controlled by the central government in Islamabad.
The U.S. State Department rates Pakistan’s human rights record as poor and reports a long litany of abuses. That nourishes critics’ claims that U.S. largesse has been put to abusive purposes, including to buy weapons that have been turned against Pakistani civilians and to offer bounties on suspects the U.S. is seeking.
A key ally
Shortly after 9/11, Pakistan offered bases to the U.S. for its use in counterterrorism operations, banned numerous militant groups, began sharing intelligence and deployed tens of thousands of troops to tense regions, including the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan where al Qaeda leaders and Taliban remnants from Afghanistan were rumored to be hiding out.
According to Sen. Sana Baloch, an opposition lawmaker who fled the country out of safety concerns, the U.S. has several military bases inside Pakistan including some in the senator’s home province of Balochistan. “Most of the U.S. bases are based in Balochistan,” Baloch told ICIJ in an interview. “One or two of them are in Kharan, my own home district. The U.S. is using the bases in this area for the war on terror. We are very supportive of the U.S. in this role.”
In return for Pakistan’s assistance, in March 2005 the U.S. announced that it would resume sales of American F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan after a 16-year ban that had served to punish Pakistan for its clandestine nuclear weapons program. Pakistan also got debt write-offs, the reestablishment of U.S. military training programs and support for Musharraf’s administration despite concerns about his anti-democratic policies (Musharraf came to power through a military coup).
Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr., assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs from 2001 to 2005, told ICIJ that U.S. policy is to pull Pakistan in closer. “Logistically,” he said, “we can’t overstate what we’ve been able to accomplish with Pakistan’s help.”
Others aren’t so sure. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 1, 2007, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., raised concerns about an increase in attacks on coalition forces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and about al Qaeda training camps reportedly given sanctuary inside Pakistan after the Pakistani central government made peace with local tribal leaders in the lawless region.
Concerns about oversight
The majority of new U.S. funding to Pakistan has come in the form of billions of dollars of Coalition Support Funds (CSF), a post-9/11 funding mechanism created to reimburse key countries for expenses incurred in supporting American counterterrorism operations. According to K. Alan Kronstadt, an expert on South Asia at the Congressional Research Service, by August 2006, CSF accounted for roughly $4.75 billion of the military aid Pakistan received from the U.S. since the terrorist attacks. Pentagon documents obtained by ICIJ say the money that went to Pakistan was largely for “military operations on the Afghanistan border.”
Coalition Support Funds are considered a reimbursement by some and a blank check by others. Craig Cohen, co-author of a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies study on U.S. aid to Pakistan, asked rhetorically whether CSF money is “intended to yield some sort of specific action on the part of the government,” adding, “If so, there’s clearly no oversight.”
Olga Oliker, an expert on U.S. defense policy and co-author of a recent RAND think tank report on the human rights performance of internal security forces in South Asia, said she’s concerned that U.S.-made weapons that go to Pakistani security forces and U.S. training that the forces receive are being used against civilian populations. “In implementing assistance,” she told ICIJ, “the U.S. has paid relatively little attention to human rights abuses and oversight. People weren’t paying attention.”
Baloch said that even as a senator, he did not have access to that information.
A former U.S. official previously based in Pakistan, who has intimate knowledge of Pakistan’s CSF receipts, told ICIJ that, “Right from the beginning it was very difficult to pin down what the costs were and how they were computed. Initially there were very round numbers reported. Now figures are coming out with more specificity. Whether or not they are inflated, it’s difficult to get a handle on that.”
The new Democratic-controlled Congress has taken a greater interest in CSF payments to Pakistan. Under the previous GOP majority, there was virtually no oversight of CSF payments to any country. In January 2007, the House of Representatives acted to impose conditions on military aid to Pakistan by adopting the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007.
Section 1442 of the bill relates to Pakistan. It identifies areas of concern for U.S. policy, including the need for Pakistan to curb the proliferation of nuclear technology, to address the presence of the Taliban and other extremist forces and to secure its borders to prevent movement of terrorists.
The bill would impose limits on foreign assistance to Pakistan, declaring that U.S. assistance may not be approved until “the President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that the Government of Pakistan is making all possible efforts to prevent the Taliban from operating in areas under its sovereign control.” In addition, Pakistan would be required to demonstrate that it is making significant steps toward “free and fair parliamentary elections in 2007.” The bill also requires that the president submit a report describing the long-term strategy of U.S. engagement with Pakistan.
The full Senate has yet to take up the legislation, and the White House has opposed the proposed restrictions on Pakistani assistance, saying that any conditions placed on Pakistan would be “counterproductive to the important goal … of fostering a closer relationship.”
From 1953 to 1961, during Cold War concerns about Soviet expansionism, Pakistan received nearly $2 billion (current dollars) from the U.S., one-quarter of which was military aid. Later, in the 1970s, concerns about Pakistan’s efforts to seek nuclear weapons led to a suspension of U.S. aid.
Meanwhile, as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, millions of Afghan refugees began to move across the border into Pakistan. Despite efforts to return them to their home country following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, roughly 2½ million Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan, many afraid of what they might have to face upon their return.
The current difficult relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is due in part to the number of Afghan refugees in Pakistani territory; the disputed border separating the two states; Pakistan’s nuclear capability; and finally, the collaboration between sections of Pakistan’s powerful and controversial Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) with the Taliban.
Fears regarding Pakistan’s nuclear program have again forced discussions about whether the U.S. should continue sending massive amounts of military assistance to Pakistan. That debate came into sharp focus with the 2004 confession by Abdul Qadeer Khan, also known as A.Q. Khan and considered the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, that he had operated an illicit nuclear smuggling network to countries including North Korea, Iran and Libya. So far, the only punishment Khan has received from Pakistan is to have been placed under house arrest in Islamabad in what has been described as comfortable conditions.
Kronstadt of CRS said of Khan, “The [A.Q. Khan] tentacles haven’t all been uncovered. At some level, the chain may still be in operation. The U.S. and IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] haven’t had access to him to this day.”
Hundreds of people were detained in Pakistan after 9/11, and some of them ended up in the U.S. naval prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. According to Amnesty International’s 2006 Annual Report, Pakistan’s security agencies continue to arbitrarily detain and arrest terrorist suspects.
The tribal region of Balochistan is known for documented cases of human rights abuses. According to press reports, at least three Pakistani politicians from Balochistan are being held for reasons of political dissent. A former politician, Abdur Rauf Mengal, who resigned in protest after Baloch political leader Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed in August 2006, has been held in solitary confinement.
“The American-supplied military arsenal has been used against Baloch nationalists,” Sen. Baloch told ICIJ. “Sophisticated helicopters bought to control the drug trade have been misused against the Baloch people.” He said he and others have gone to the State Department, “and the State Department says [the U.S. has] given military hardware with no conditions.”
A former U.S. official previously based in Pakistan acknowledged to ICIJ that in Balochistan, “The [Pakistani] army stepped in with a pretty heavy hand last year.”
Christine Fair, co-author of the RAND report and a South Asia expert at the U.S. Institute for Peace, said that the U.S. is nearsighted in its support for Musharraf. “I don’t think he’ll ever deliver what he says he will. The U.S. government is ‘all Musharraf all the time.’ And [the U.S. goal is] to keep him in place, to keep the army happy.”
Says T. Kumar, advocacy director for Asia and Pacific at Amnesty International USA: “Pakistan is a solid dictatorship. The U.S. is being taken for a big ride. Musharraf is not the right person for the war. Powerful sections of the ISI [remain] involved with the Taliban. They’re waiting for time, biding their time.”
The numbers in this article were updated on November 5, 2007, to reflect a newer version of the U.S. government documents that report Coalition Support Fund expenditures.
Assistant Database Editor Ben Welsh contributed this report.