NEW DELHI, India — Sarah Palin isn't the only one with a case for going rogue.
With U.S. President Barack Obama scheduled to come courting next month, Mother India might think about giving it a try, too.
Consider the evidence.
The U.S. today announced a $2 billion military and security aid package to Pakistan, a country widely suspected of harboring top leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban — including Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, by some accounts. In recent weeks, dozens of American fuel tankers bound for soldiers in Afghanistan have been blown up.
Coming on the back of a $7.5 billion package of economic aid announced in 2009, the new package brings the total since Sept. 11, 2001, to nearly $15 billion — double the amount of aid Islamabad received from Washington during all of the 1990s.
And the bulk of that money — about 10 times the amount of U.S. aid to India — came after 2004, when Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan confessed to providing Iran, Libya and North Korea with designs and technology to aid in their nuclear weapons programs, receiving a pardon after maintaining, unconvincingly, that Islamabad had no role in his activities.
What did New Delhi, supposedly America's natural ally, get out of the deal? In December 2001, Pakistan-based terrorists attacked India's parliament, killing six policemen and one civilian, leading to a fraught standoff between the two nations across the disputed Line of Control in Kashmir. Then, in November 2008, a well-trained team conducted more than 10 coordinated terrorist attacks in Mumbai, killing some 170 people and injuring more than 300.
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was allegedly implicated by phone intercepts and the testimony of David Headley, who confessed to helping to plan the attacks on Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel and other locations. And new revelations from ProPublica suggest that America not only kept its knowledge of Headley's activities from India, but also that the former Drug Enforcement Agency informant may have been a double agent for the Central Intelligence Agency and the ISI.
When Obama visits India the first week of November, he'll have some explaining to do.
"The timing of this could not be worse," said Indiana University political scientist Sumit Ganguly. "With 16 days to go before the Obama visit, to announce this [aid package] was absolutely thoughtless. Of course, I don't know if announcing it after the visit would have been any better."
Though the U.S. has gotten precious little bang for its buck and India has been left out in the cold, for Pakistan the effects of going rogue have been positive. On Sept. 11, 2001, the value of the Karachi stock exchange's KSE 100 index stood at 1255.99 points. In 2002 alone, it doubled in value. By Friday's close, savvy investors have watched the formerly lackluster and volatile index march steadily past 10,000. Far from making Pakistan a stalwart ally or a liberal democracy, the lucrative gravy train has made it clearer than ever to many here that America's foreign policy establishment can be played.
"It has convinced the Pakistanis that America is so desperate for their support that they can get away with anything, including burning your supply trucks and doing precious little of what [America] wants," said Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, India's ambassador to Pakistan from 1998 to 2000.
From India's perspective, U.S. military aid to Pakistan is disproportionate to the actual cost of fighting terrorism — the ostensible justification for the funds — and Islamabad spends the bulk of the money on preparing for a possible future war with India.
This increases the risk of an escalating arms race in South Asia, implied Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony in discussions with U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not long after Pakistan received the first three of 18 F-16s — fighter jets that are ill-suited for ferreting out terrorists hiding in the caves of Waziristan.
Moreover, while America's military aid generally comes in the form of free or subsidized hardware from U.S. suppliers — acting as an economic stimulus for the U.S. defense industry — India believes that as much as half of the cash, paid as "Coalition Support Fund" reimbursements for expenses incurred supporting the U.S. war effort, is easily routed to make other purchases.
"The bulk of that [aid money] has gone to purchase Chinese weapons, because it goes as coalition support funds," said Parthasarathy. "So, militarily you are in effect promoting a Chinese-Pakistan relationship."
Over the past two decades, China has supplied Pakistan with everything from tanks to frigates, and aided the development of its nuclear program while under U.S. sanctions. But several big ticket purchases have come after the U.S. ramped up reimbursement payments. Pakistan signed a deal to buy four 2,500 ton F-22P frigates from China for $750 million in 2005, for example, and its navy recently expressed interest in buying some larger, 4,000-ton ships.
Meanwhile, under the ongoing JF-17 fighter project, speculated to be worth about $5 billion, Pakistan is expected to add some 250 jets to its air force by 2015. And, according to Farhan Bokhari, the Pakistan correspondent for Jane's Defence Weekly, it's difficult to compare those sums dollar-for-dollar, because China offers Pakistan deep discounts and concessionary payment terms.
The present government in New Delhi is convinced that the road to greatness runs through Washington, so India remains keen to wolf down whatever scraps Obama is prepared to offer to add substance to what both nations call a "strategic partnership."
That means India is less likely than ever to go rogue — by taking a firm stand to back neighboring Iran's nuclear ambitions, for example, or by funneling an expected $10 billion in defense purchases to its longtime supplier Russia instead of the U.S., even though some commentators here have pointed out that money will go into Pakistani pockets.
But Washington should be concerned about the other rogues in the audience, for whom the attractions of bad behavior just keep getting bigger. While Obama tries to keep Iran from seeking nuclear weapons, for example, the contrasting fates of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan demonstrate to many here that they are necessary for a seat at the big kids' table — so much so that an Indian general described the message sent by America's first invasion of Iraq as "get nuclear weapons as fast as possible, unless you want to be invaded by the U.S."
"I'm certain that any number of squalid dictators across the world will now infer that if you are suitably difficult and you have certain things that the U.S. desires, then squeezing the U.S. works," said Ganguly.