I'm increasingly worried however about signs that the U.S. will pump further funds into the Pakistan military in an attempt to bolster counterinsurgency against the Taliban. That would simply mean slipping into the same trap the U.S. has fallen into several times in the past. Back in the 90's, the Taliban were supported by the US to repel the Soviets and eventually turned against them. Pakistan continued to stealthily support the Taliban since they acted as an insurance in case the U.S. withdrew its support. In the recent past, the Bush administration has pumped in over $12 billion in funding for the Pakistani army, most of which appears to have been whittled away through corrupt hands.
It appears that Obama has promised Pakistan $1.5 billion a year for the next 5 years to train and equip their army. While I understand that Obama would not want to risk American lives this stage and would rather wage a proxy war through the Pakistan army or by random airstrikes, this is just the same old story all over again.
Here's what I feel needs to happen:
- Obama needs to invest funds in Pakistan. In case that sounds contradictory to what I've just said earlier, my point is that the funds need to get to the right places - education, capital, infrastructure. The Pakistani people are increasingly frustrated with Zardari and it would be a disaster if military rule returned. Longer term sustainable growth is needed for their democracy to thrive and better relationships with India.
- Obama needs to partner closely with Indian and Pakistani governments to deal with counterinsurgency. It's a thin red line, but this is ultimately in India's interests as well as the last thing Delhi wants is the Taliban knocking at India's borders. Given the escalated situation in Sri Lanka as well, this could be extremely volatile for the subcontinent.
In a few months from now, we'll be coming up on 26/11/09 and the general public will start to demand strong action from Manmohan to firmly address the terrorism issue. Pakistan's release of Hafiz Saeed hit the headlines in India, but the response and protests have not been that vocal yet. It remains to be seen how Chidambaram approaches this with Obama.
Obama has a huge number of issues to deal with at this stage both at home in the U.S. and abroad. So far, he's been able to deflect most criticism like a true teflon leader, but he is likely aware that his honeymoon period is ticking away. He'll need to make substantial progress on the core issues over the next few months in order to continue to bolster support.