Is it time to change Pakistan’s privileged diplomatic status with the U.S?
More commonly known as NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a 30-country international alliance and mutual defense pact including the U.S., Canada, and most nations in Europe. Since 1987, the president can also designate a nation as a “major non-NATO ally,” allowing them certain military and economic advantages such as surplus defense equipment.
Currently, the U.S. has designated 18 nations as major non-NATO allies. The most recent was President Donald Trump’s designation of Brazil in 2019. President George W. Bush designated Pakistan in 2004.
In recent years, some have questioned Pakistan’s inclusion on that list. Qualms particularly came up after Osama bin Laden was found in the country in 2011, since Pakistan may have known he was there. In more recent years, the country has been criticized for failing to sufficiently crack down on the Haqqani Network, the Pakistan-based group designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012.
What the bill does
A new bill would end Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally. No previously-added country has ever been removed from the list.
Pakistan could only be re-added to the list if the president certifies to Congress four aspects of Pakistan’s disruption and efforts against the Haqqani Network, including arrests, prosecutions, and “significantly disrupting [their] safe haven.”
What supporters say
Supporters argue that Pakistan has failed at its critical task of disrupting and defeating homegrown terrorism, at considerable national security risk to the U.S..
“Pakistan must be held accountable for the American blood on its hands,” former Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX2) said in a 2017 press release when introducing a similar version of this legislation. “For years, Pakistan has acted as a Benedict Arnold ally of the United States. From harboring Osama bin laden to backing the Taliban, Pakistan has stubbornly refused to go after, in any meaningful way, terrorists that actively seek to harm opposing ideologies.”
“We must make a clean break with Pakistan,” Poe continued. “But at the very least, we should stop providing them the eligibility to obtain our own sophisticated weaponry in an expedited process granting them a privileged status reserved for our closest allies.”
What opponents say
Opponents say that keeping the current designation increases U.S. influence in Pakistan.
President George H.W. Bush eliminated military aid to Pakistan in 1990, “Prior to that, Pakistani generals used to come to the U.S on study tours,” the Council on Foreign Relations’ Pakistan analyst Kathy Gannon told The Guardian. “After that, the Pakistani military went elsewhere. They went to the Middle East, to east Asia.”
“U.S. policies in the region are mostly Pentagon-driven, not State Department-driven. The military in the U.S. is making the decisions, Gannon continued. Accordingly, “It makes sense for them to say we have a relationship with the Pakistani military.”
Odds of passage
A 2017 House version attracted 10 bipartisan cosponsors, seven Republicans and three Democrats, but never received a committee vote. A 2019 House version attracted one Republican cosponsor and never received a committee vote.
The current version has not yet attracted any cosponsors. It awaits a potential vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.