Last week’s carnage in Karachi at Bennazir Bhutto’s homecoming will again focus attention on the role Pakistan plays in world politics. For Pakistan, with its 160 million inhabitants and nuclear-armed government, is the pivot around which not only peace on the Indian subcontinent revolves, but the success of the U.S -led effort to reconstruct Afghanistan after the Taliban’s 2001 ouster and the larger war against Al Qaeda and its Islamic extremist allies.
Helping Pakistan tip the scales towards stability is therefore a key priority. Accordingly, after 9/11, the U.S backed President Pervez Musharraf in exchange for cooperation against the Taliban- much like it supported Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, a former military ruler, for help in battling Communism. US assistance to Pakistan jumped from $1.7 million in 2001 to $275 million in 2004. For 2008, George W. Bush’s administration is requesting $785 million on top of untold millions in military aid, sales and clandestine support.
U.S. officials praise Pakistan’s military rule for facilitating some of the most important captures of al Qaeda leaders, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Musharraf, in turn, has long portrayed himself as a bulwark against Islamic extremism. This claim is now in doubt, as Musharraf’s grip on power has loosened and developments in the Afghan-Pakistan tribal areas – from where the Taliban are waging its war against Hamid Karzai’s Afghan government – seem to have led to a reassessment of Musharraf’s reliability as a long-term partner. For that reason, Washington has changed its script, aiming for reconciliation between Musharraf and Bhutto and the best of both worlds: keeping “their man” in power, but strengthened by Bhutto’s democratic legitimacy.
U.S policy may be pilloried for being one-sided, focused mainly on counter-terrorism, and keeping a strong-man in power, even at the expense of democratic progress. But at least Washington has sought to engage with the “Pakistan Question”. No other country better illustrates the criticism that the European Union is an economic giant, but remains a political dwarf.
Europe is Pakistan’s largest trading partner receiving 27.4% of Pakistan’s exports and providing 17% of its total imports. In 2005 alone, EU imports from Pakistan totalled €3.4 billion in 2005. Between 2002-2006, the EU provided €125 million in aid to Pakistan. After the 8 October 2005 earthquake, the EU provided a further € 93.6 million in humanitarian aid. The EU has also concluded a so-called “third-generation” agreement with Pakistan, which includes initiatives in trade, development, economic programmes, energy, tourism, regional co-operation and science and technology. Under the agreement, an EU-Pakistan Joint Commission has been set up.
Yet despite this, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the EU’s role in Pakistan bears all the hallmarks of the pre-Maastricht polity it no longer wants to be: technocratic, apolitical, and marginalised by the U.S. Though the EU’s aid to Pakistan is significant, it represents a small figure compared to the Union’s total development budget of € 40 billion. It is also dwarfed by the U.S contribution. Perhaps tellingly, while the European Commission has a strategy for its Pakistan programme for the period 2007-2013, this focuses narrowly on poverty-alleviation; Pakistan is nowhere to be found in the EU’s Security Strategy.
The EU’s limited engagement may become a serious problem, as developments in Pakistan have a direct bearing on Europe’s safety and wellbeing. The foiled terrorist attacks in Denmark and Germany showed that would-be terrorists of European origin were trained by Al Qaeda in Pakistan or took orders from Islamic Jihad Union, an Al Qaeda ally based in Pakistan.
In the coming weeks, Washington’s think-tanks and foreign policy circles will be abuzz with ideas about U.S policy towards Pakistan. Many presidential candidates are likely to join the fray. Across the Atlantic, however, there will be no such buzz. Pakistan does not register as a European foreign policy priority. But perhaps it should. A more lively debate about the EU’s Pakistan policy – or lack of it – would be a useful first step.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.