BY SAMAN BHAT ’22 AND GABBY RAYMOND ’20
The Trump administration announced last month it was cutting more than $300 million in aid to the Pakistani government. The Pentagon claimed the move responded to Pakistan’s failure to act against militant groups in the country. The change has yet to be approved by Congress, but has already struck a huge blow to the fragile U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
While this move is in line with Trumpera policies, the situation is not one they created. When Obama took office in 2008, he allocated billions of dollars to Pakistan over the course of five years. In return, Pakistan was to cooperate with the U.S. in fighting the War on Terror, according to World Politics Review. While he decreased the number of boots on the ground, he drastically increased the number of drone attacks in Pakistan, stressing previously friendly relations.
According to Reuters, the Obama administration abused its relationship with Pakistan throughout the 8-year term, expecting intensified counter-terrorist efforts and withholding aid if Pakistan did not comply with their military presence. On May 2, 2011, Obama launched a surprise raid in Pakistan, killing Osama Bin Laden. After the assault on its borders, Pakistan cut the U.S. paramilitary training program and threatened to close the CIA base for drone operations. The Times reported that the U.S. then held back $800 million in aid, a third of the $2 billion it was reimbursing Pakistan for deploying 100,000 soldiers to fight militants along the Afghanistan border.
In 2016, Obama once again refused to reimburse Pakistan $300 million in military aid because of the “continuing operations of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani militants on Pakistani soil,” despite concerns that if the government did not provide a safe haven, the militant guns could be turned on them.
The Obama administration recently revealed that 64 to 114 civilians were killed in Yemen, Africa and Pakistan from 2009 to 2017. Various human rights groups estimate a much higher death toll. According to PBS, the number of deaths could be as high as 1,100.
Tehreem Mela ’19, an international Pakistani student and politics major, said that opinions of the former president in her home country are low. “In Pakistan, people don’t like [Obama] mainly because of his drone policy,” she said. “The drones went up mostly in Obama’s administration, even more than G.W. Bush.” She believes Obama’s drone strikes have “led to the most human rights violations to ever happen [in Pakistan].”
Natalia Naveed ’19, another international Pakistani student, reflected differently on the reaction of her peers in Pakistan. “Generally in Pakistan, people don’t really care about the domestic politics of the U.S. They don’t really think about Obama and Trump individually; they just think about it as the American government,” she said. “So, when Obama was sending all those drones, Pakistan just ridiculed the American government.”
When asked about the recent cut, Mela said, “I think it is a two-way road, because if Pakistan is funding the Taliban or the Haqqani Network, then there have been times [when] the U.S. [...] has [also] done things for political expediency.” Mela also noted most of the aid provided by the U.S. is for the military, which has shaped Pakistan into a garrison state.
Mela is concerned other students at the College don’t fully grasp the gravity of the U.S.-Pakistan situation. “Even people like Hillary Clinton on this campus are revered as harbingers of freedom and equality, when they’re really not,” Mela said. She was particularly upset by the College’s decision to invite former Secretary of State John Kerry to speak. “I didn’t go to that talk in protest, because John Kerry has placed so many sanctions on Pakistan.”
In a press conference on Sept. 2, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made it clear that “the $300 million is neither aid nor assistance — it is the money Pakistan spent from its resources against militants and in the war against terrorism,” he said. “This is the money [the U.S.] is supposed to reimburse, but now either they are not willing or are unable to pay it back.”
Pakistan has continually denied claims they are providing “safe havens” for any militant group, including the Haqqani Network, according to NPR. “There are two sides of a picture. [The U.S. is] showing only one side of it; we will show the other side,” said Qureshi during his press conference.