Vice President Joe Biden will offer more support to Pakistan this week, despite evidence that the government has been incapable of cracking down on Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.
The decision to “double-down” on its support for president Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was made “to call the bluff of Pakistani officials who have long complained that the United States has failed to understand their security priorities or provide adequate support, “ The Washington Post reported.
But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., says he will oppose any increased aid to Pakistan. “Pakistan has been playing us like a fiddle for decades,” he told Newsmax. “They are friends of radical Islam. They’ve been deceiving us, and it should be clear by now that our strategy hasn’t worked. We should not be working with the government of Pakistan, because they’ve been supporting and funding the Taliban."
The radicalization of Pakistan became clear on Jan. 4, when a bodyguard protecting Punjab state Gov. Salman Taseer opened fire on his boss, shooting him 20 times in the back as other members of the security detail looked on.
Since the murder, the bodyguard has become something of a national hero, telling the press that he assassinated Taseer because he had campaigned against Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law, which condemns to death anyone who leaves Islam to adopt another religion.
The anti-blasphemy law has become a cause célèbre inside Pakistan since the jailing in 2009 of Asia Bibi, a 45-year old mother of five who embraced Christianity and says she is being persecuted because of her faith.
“The anti-blasphemy law is the main cause of violence against Christians,” says Dr. Nazir Bhatti, a Pakistani Christian activist in the United States.
Taseer’s killer won support from so many Pakistan lawyers that the government’s prosecuting attorney reportedly feared to show up for his preliminary hearing.
Biden will offer President Zardari an expanded package of civilian aid, in addition to new weapons, military training and other security assistance, administration officials told reporters before this week’s trip.
In his meeting with Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Biden is expected to back off previous requests to allow U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan to conduct more cross-border raids against terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas.
While the U.S. remains concerned about al-Qaida and Taliban operations inside Pakistan, U.S. Central Command and outside security experts now argue that the political cost to the Pakistani government of going after those sanctuaries outweighs the security benefit to the United States, especially as the surge in Afghanistan takes its toll on the Taliban more generally.
Kimberly Kagan, the founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War, told a panel at the American Enterprise Institute on Monday that the U.S.-led surge in Afghanistan over the past year has inflicted “unprecedented damage to al-Qaida” in southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
Kagan and her husband Frederick made several trips to Afghanistan last year to assess the military and political situation, and concluded that while the persistence of insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan continues to a challenge to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, it is no longer the key factor to achieving victory.
“Afghanistan is not beset by hordes of insurgents flooding across the border, but rather by the movement of leaders, small numbers of highly-trained fighters, munitions, weapons, and other supplies,” they wrote in a recent study.
The Kagans are considered the parents of the successful “surge” strategy adapted by Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, so their support for the Obama administration surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan could help to win congressional support for increased funding levels.
The extent of U.S. aid to Pakistan already is staggering.
Direct military aid has averaged more than $1.6 billion over the past five years, and topped $2.7 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010.
Now the administration is asking Congress to approve another $3.2 billion for Pakistan for 2011, but incoming Tea Party conservatives could balk at those levels on purely fiscal terms.
Already in 2009, some Democrats joined conservative Republicans in the Senate in challenging an administration request to offer Pakistan a $7.5 billion package of civilian aid to be spread over five years.
New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez stunned fellow members of the Senate Foreign Relations committee when he challenged Ambassador Richard Holbrooke over the Pakistan aid request.
"You're asking us to vote for a whole new set of money without knowing whether there are going to be benchmarks, without knowing whether we have a better system of accountability," Menendez said. " I have been supportive along the way, but we are just not here for a blank check.”
When Holbrooke argued that the U.S. should not give the impression that it was ignoring Pakistan, Menendez shot back: “Let me say that I don't believe that $12 billion later that we have been ignoring Pakistan. If $12 billion later you would tell any U.S. taxpayer that we had been ignoring Pakistan they would probably bristle at the idea."
Menendez went on to author a legislative provision enacted into law in 2009 that helps ensure that military assistance for Pakistan is used to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida, and remains a skeptic of expanded foreign aid to Pakistan.
Rep. Rohrabacher believes the United States needs “a realignment” away from the current strategy of propping up Pakistan and the corrupt Karzai government in Afghanistan.
“We’ve known even before 2001 that they were supporting the Taliban. The Taliban leaders live in Quetta and have gotten refuge in other areas as well. Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, is keeping the Haqqani network alive. The ISI is the Taliban,” he told Newsmax.
“There were Pakistani regulars fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to 2001 and the ISI never stopped supporting them with training, material, and weapons,” he added.
The realignment Rohrabacher is proposing would shift U.S. strategic priorities away from Islamist states and China toward India and a decentralized Afghan government, run by allies of assassinated Northern Alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud.
“When we align ourselves with Pakistan, we align ourselves with the Chinese. Instead, we should align ourselves with the Indians and the Northern Alliance, who are aligned with other countries in the region such as Uzbekistan and Tajikstan,” Rohrabacher said.
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