Pakistan does not have an equipment problem. It has demonstrated a lack of will compounded by a lack of skill in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents who have taken sanctuary along its border with Afghanistan. In terms of skill, the Afghan police have demonstrated more lately.
Five years ago, elite Pakistani troops stationed near the border with Afghanistan began receiving hundreds of pairs of U.S.-made night-vision goggles that would enable them to see and fight al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in the dark. The sophisticated goggles, supplied by the Bush administration at a cost of up to $9,000 a pair, came with an implicit message: Step up the attacks.
But every three months, the troops had to turn in their goggles for two weeks to be inventoried, because the U.S. military wanted to make sure none were stolen or given away, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. Militants perceived a pattern and scurried into the open without fear during the two-week counts.
"They knew exactly when we didn't have the goggles, and they took full advantage," said a senior Pakistani government official who closely tracks military operations on the border.
The goggles are but a fragment of the huge military aid Washington sends to Pakistan, but the frustrations expressed by Pakistani officials are emblematic of a widening gulf between two military powers that express a common interest in defeating terrorism.
The Bush administration has provided nearly $11 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001, most of it in military hardware and cash support for the country's operating budget. But frustrations are rising among military officers on both sides because the aid has produced neither battlefield success nor great trust, said government officials and independent experts who study relations between the two countries.
U.S. officials say part of the problem is that the Pakistani government has lacked sufficient commitment to engage the enemy, a task that may be further undermined by the country's growing political instability as its leadership is challenged by an invigorated opposition.
U.S. equipment is not being used "in a sustained way," said Seth Jones, a Rand Corp. researcher who recently visited the region. "The army is not very effective, and there have been elements of the government that have worked with the Taliban in the tribal areas in the past," making them ambivalent about the current fight against those forces, he said.
Independent Western experts also wonder whether Pakistan is devoting too much of U.S. aid to large weapons systems, while shortchanging its own counterinsurgency forces; they say it also is not spending enough on social problems that might address the root causes of terrorism. Of $1.6 billion in U.S. aid dedicated to security assistance in Pakistan since 2002, for example, more than half went for purchases of major weapons systems sought by Pakistan's army, including F-16 fighters, according to U.S. officials.
Where Pakistan troops have been bombed and captured and looking inept, the US trained Afghan forces have been working well with coalition forces and have largely turned the tables on the Taliban in Afghanistan. This suggest that the Pakistan forces need more joint training with US forces in fighting this enemy. It may require that the Pakistan army swallow its pride and take some advice down to the small unit level to improve their performance.