Monday, December 24, 2007

U.S. Official - No Hold Up On Pakistan's F-16s

By Cernig

A report in the NY Times today has raised what the Counterterrorism Blog calls "thinking eyebrows" with the news that up to two thirds of the $5 billion in U.S. taxpayers money the Bush adminsitration sent to Pakistan for its help in the War On (Some) Terror has been diverted from it's intended purpose.

The NYT reports that:
In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.

...Civilian opponents of President Pervez Musharraf say he used the reimbursements to prop up his government. One European diplomat in Islamabad said the United States should have been more cautious with its aid.

“I wonder if the Americans have not been taken for a ride,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Lawmakers in Washington voted Thursday to put restrictions on the $300 million in military financing, and withheld $50 million of that money until Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certifies that Islamabad has been restoring democratic rights since Mr. Musharraf lifted a state of emergency on Dec. 16. The measure had little effect on the far larger Coalition Support Funds reimbursements.

While it was a modest first step, any new conditions in aid could have a major effect on relations between the United States and Pakistan. Pakistan’s military relies on Washington for roughly a quarter of its entire $4 billion budget.

In interviews, American and Pakistani officials acknowledged that they had never agreed on the strategic goals that should drive how the money was spent, or how the Pakistanis would prove that they were performing up to American expectations.
Even Captain Ed has caught on - Musharraf has been playing the Bush administration for fun and profit, using what Steve Benen rightly calls "broad and fairly transparent fraud".

Yet, despite all the recent outrage about this obvious fraud, the Bush administration are still aggressively pushing through a $2.1 billion deal sale of advanced nuclear-capable fighter bombers which are far more suited to being used against India than against Al Qaeda. The justification for this is flimsy to say the least:
Two days after the US Congress slapped restrictions on military aid to Pakistan, a senior US official asserted the constraints would not affect the supply of F-16 fighter planes to the country.

Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, also expressed confidence that new restrictions on military aid to Pakistan will not prevent the Bush administration from providing $50 million for the war on terror.

"The F-16 programme is a Pakistani purchase, their money, they're buying them. And our foreign military finance, our military assistance goes for different purposes and is not involved at this point in the F-16 sales.

"So they will be able to continue that and we will be able to continue our they can do the fight against terrorism that they are in," he said according to the transcript of a teleconference released on Friday.
Hang on, didn't we just hear that US war-on-terror aid is involved, because the Pakistanis are redirecting it? That the chances are very high that Pakistan is buying these F-16s with US taxpayer dollars?

The Bush administration has been fuelling the India/Pakistan arms race for a while now though, and it isn't likely to change. That U.S. tax money in the form of aid then boomerangs back to American shores in the form of big-item purchases from arms manufacturers is a form of money laundering which has helped everyone concerned ensure that they keep receiving big campaign bucks from the weapons makers.

TPM's Spencer Ackerman today writes:
if the U.S. truly cared about Pakistan spending the money fastidiously, it wouldn't be paying Musharraf in untraceable cash transfers. Rather, the U.S. needs to buy off Musharraf so he'll let us dip our toes into the volatile FATA and occasionally kill some terrorists, and so his security services will share intelligence with us and snag us some al-Qaeda members hiding up in Rawalpindi or Karachi or Peshawar or wherever. And buying him off means buying him off. Corruption and diversion of money is part of the bargain -- a cost of doing business.

It's one thing for U.S. officials to ask what exactly it is they're purchasing for over $10 billion. But it's quite another the U.S. to turn around and complain that the cash we've given Musharraf doesn't come with strings.
Which is certainly correct - but it would be naive to think that there aren't strings attached to U.S. politicians too. American involvement in an India/Pakistan arms race is incredibly destabilising - that arms race is often cited by Japanese hawks as the best reason for Japan to become a nuclear-armed nation, for instance.

At some point we should consider whether arms industry profits really should come before the national interest and global stability. As Dr. Jo Husbands of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences told a think-tank discussion back in 2003 we need to consider, instead of arms manufacturers profiteering on the taxpayer's dime, the "thuddingly obvious point that we are... now engaged in arming both sides of a situation where there have been major conflicts in the past and major recent crises that threatened serious violence and conflict."

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