Aid Cuts to Pakistan Need to Go Deeper

Having bitten the hand that feeds it too often, Pakistan is being punished with the loss of $800 million in US military aid.  Withholding the portion earmarked for training and equipping Pakistani forces will sting. But the biggest blow is the $300 million cash reimbursement for money Pakistan has already spent on operations along the Afghan border; a penalty some commentators claim will end up harming the broader economy because the payment goes directly into Pakistan’s treasury.

When I hear such warnings, I can’t help but wonder how much of those treasury funds end up lining the pockets of the country’s military elite, not to mention the ISI (which is largely staffed by former military)? In my view, it’s pointless separating Pakistan’s broader economy from the military because the army controls how the country’s resources are allocated.  The real question to ask therefore is not who will aid cuts impact, but why should the west continue to provide any form of aid to Pakistan?

Take Britain for example. In April, Prime Minister David Cameron outlined plans to make Islamabad the single biggest recipient of British foreign aid by increasing the amount of education aid to Pakistan to £650 million over the next four years (the total UK aid spend to Pakistan for 2009-10 was £140.4 million).   Honestly, I don’t know why Mr. Cameron doesn’t simply bypass the middleman and wire the funds directly into the offshore bank accounts of corrupt Pakistani officials because that’s where much of it will likely end up. Mr. Cameron put a national security spin on the proposed package, claiming that by tackling illiteracy in Pakistan we will be eliminating a “root cause” of Islamic extremism and terrorism.  I hate to break it to the Prime Minister, but over the past six years, I’ve met a handful of captured, hard-line Taliban from Pakistan and all of them had university educations.  It wasn’t illiteracy that had radicalized them, but western policies in South Asia and the Middle East (the same policies have radicalized British-born Pakistani militants as well).

 

It’s time to face facts: education and other hearts and minds initiatives in Pakistan have a dismal track record and to throw good money after bad at a time when Britain is closing libraries, village schools and pricing higher education beyond the reach of the average citizen is grossly irresponsible.

Some will counter that if the West doesn’t buy influence in Pakistan, China will step into the vacuum.  Beijing already has by investing billions in Pakistan. And unlike the west, it does not conduct drone strikes in the tribal areas or demand Pakistan’s military weed out Afghan Taliban, nor does it make a big deal about human rights violations.  In fact, Beijing turns a blind eye to the systematic oppression of ethnic Baluch in Baluchistan province where it is developing a treasured deep water port.

So far, China is getting a great return on its investment, gaining a strategic foothold in the Arabian Gulf and selling Pakistan military aircraft and submarines. But should Pakistan’s millions of downtrodden rise up and demand their fair cut, Beijing and every other nation that has propped up Pakistan’s corrupt and ineffective establishment could very well get their comeuppance. In the meantime, Pakistan’s military will continue to play its double game of going after anti-Islamabad militants while coddling Afghan Taliban targeting coalition forces.

So let’s cut all of  our aid to Pakistan and spend the money at home.  Islamabad can go cap in hand to some other nation.  Because until they are challenged from within, Pakistan’s corrupt elite will do as they like, aid or no aid.

Introducing The Photo Gallery

I’ve snapped over a thousand images in hostile environments over the past decade, some of which I’ve used as visuals in talks for my books. Many people who’ve attended those presentations have suggested afterward that I post my photographs online. Well, at long last, I’m acting on their advice and launching an online  Photo Gallery.

I’m kicking off with a selection of images that have influenced my fiction books including my debut novel, The Infidel, a modern day military thriller inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, and my forthcoming novel, The Good Jihadist, an action thriller set against the duplicitous landscape of modern-day Pakistan that follows ex-SAS Sergeant Matt Logan’s hunt for a Pakistani Taliban leader.

My subject matter is as diverse as the places I’ve operated in.  This first batch of images includes an Apache helicopter, Russian attack helis, a US artillery gun, US army operating on the ground in Afghanistan, Afghan security forces training at the KMTC, children’s war art, Pakistani jihadists, riot police in Islamabad, a tank graveyard,  landscapes, villages and a winding mountain pass just to name a few.

I’m not a professional photographer.  All of my photographs were taken either on the move or during time outs whilst looking after clients in hostile environments (my camera allowed me to maintain a lower profile with media clients and not stick out as “the security man”.  It also served as an ice breaker in tense situations).

I hope you enjoy the Photo Gallery. For those of you who have read The Infidel and who plan to read The Good Jihadist when it is released this August, I hope it enhances your enjoyment of both novels.  If you like the gallery, please do check back, as I will be adding to it regularly. Next up is a selection of photographs from The Circuit, my non-fiction account of the private security industry.

A Breakup of Pakistan: Good or Bad for The West?

Pakistani Military Post
Heading for a Yugoslavia-style bust up?

The assault last night on Mehran Naval Air Base in Karachi that left at least a dozen soldiers dead and destroyed anti submarine/ marine surveillance aircraft is the strongest evidence to date that Pakistan is losing the battle against home grown militants. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani described this latest attack by the Pakistani Taliban as a “cowardly act of terror”. While I certainly don’t condone the militants’ actions, as someone with 23 years military experience, I can say without reservation that last night’s raid was hardly cowardly.  Unlike previous attacks, the Pakistani Taliban did not detonate a vehicle borne explosive device or take a few pot shots and run away.  They staged a direct ground assault on a secure military installation.  An operation of that nature takes supreme confidence, good organization and a healthy dose of fearlessness.

This is an extremely alarming development, especially given that Pakistan’s military installations have been on high alert since the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad earlier this month. Because if the country’s security forces can’t stop insurgents from penetrating a well-fortified military base, why should anyone believe they can defend the nation’s nuclear assets against terrorists?  It is more important than ever now that we examine the goals and motives of Pakistan’s insurgent groups and how the pursuit and/or realization of those goals would impact western interests in the region. Continue reading

bin Laden’s Death: A Game Changer in Pakistan

The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US forces will no doubt bring closure to many throughout the world who’ve lost loved ones to al-Qaeda’s terror campaign. But far from signalling the end of the battle for supremacy in South Asia, bin Laden’s demise only marks the end of the beginning.

The United States reportedly launched the attack on bin Laden’s luxury, Pakistani hideaway without informing the Pakistani authorities. The failure to gain prior consent lays bare the lack of trust which has characterized relations between Islamabad and Washington since the beginning of the War on Terror.  Speculation has been rife for years that Pakistan has been playing a double game with the West – posing as a cooperative ally in the war in neighbouring Afghanistan while secretly aiding the Afghan Taliban which gave bin Laden sanctuary.  Classified US documents posted online by Wikileaks repeatedly accuse the ISI, Pakistan’s most powerful intelligence agency, of supporting the Afghan Taliban. Continue reading

The Bigger Threat from Pakistan

New York City caught a break this week after a car bomb failed to detonate in Times Square.  The alleged attacker, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born American citizen, reportedly claimed he learned his terror craft at a training camp in North Waziristan; an insurgent stronghold in Pakistan’s tribal belt. America, Britain and Europe have understandably grown fearful of tribal belt insurgents exporting violent jihad to western shores and this latest incident has garnered considerable media attention, not to mention, a deluge of official reaction from some powerful players.  Scary as Shahzad may be though, obsessing about a disgruntled, young militant with poor bomb-making skills strikes me as misplaced considering what’s really at stake in Pakistan. Continue reading

The Stakes Rise in Pakistan

The days of denying the presence of US military personnel in Pakistan came to an end after three US soldiers were killed in a bomb blast near a girls’ school in North West Frontier Province this week.   The admission that US troops are in Pakistan training the country’s paramilitary Frontier Corps could not have come at a more delicate time. Not only could it further weaken Pakistan’s embattled central government; it could up the stakes considerably in the Great Game for supremacy in Central Asia. Continue reading