Tuesday, 9 September 2008

On US-Pakistani Relations and the Aid Affair

There is an interesting article in today's 'News' by Mosharraf Zaidi called 'Joe Biden's Massive Pakistan Discount'. He takes a look at the recently passed Biden-Lugar Bill in the States which pledges $1.5 billion a year to Pakistan over the next ten years if it meets certain conditions (prosecuting the war on terror and democratic institution-building).

Firstly Mr Zaidi criticises the bill, pointing out that Georgia, with a population of 26 million is getting $1 billion in aid, while Pakistan with a population of over 170 million is getting $1.5 billion. He helpfully provides the following statistics:
In 2006 America's $9.9 billion aid programme in Iraq represented a $353 US contribution per Iraqi. Jordan's comparatively meager $562 million package translated into about $91 per Jordanian. Afghanistan's $3.74 billion programme meant the US provided $114 in assistance for each Afghan. Egypt received $1.79 billion, or about $22 per Egyptian citizen. At $1.5 billion, America's Pakistan assistance package will provide less than $9 per Pakistani citizen (or $8.72 to be precise). The true extent of the discount can be gleaned not by comparisons to post-conflict zones, or countries with solid gold records of friendship with the US, but by a comparison with Georgia, which will get roughly $217 per citizen. In cold numerical terms this means that one Georgian is worth roughly 25 Pakistanis.

This first argument does not seem entirely fair. Firstly, the US is pledging $1.5 billion per year for ten years - in other words $15 billion. Which means that Pakistan would get roughly $80-odd per citizen. Still not a huge amount but fairly substantial. Also its worth pointing out that the aid to Georgia is split, with about $500 million sent this year and the rest to be decided on later.

Its also worth pointing out that Georgia, according to the NYT has received a total of $1.8 billion over the last 17 years, while since 9-11, Pakistan has received over $11 billion (admittedly mostly military aid, but then thats what the military government demanded) and that's not including loans through US-dominated lending institutions and loan deferments etc.

Still, the author's basic point has merit. $1.5 billion isn't going to be working any miracles. His second point seems to be much more pertinent. In his proposal on American policy with Pakistan, Joe Biden rightly said that the American relationship with Pakistan has to move from a transactional to a normal, functional one. But in tying strings to this aid and making it dependent on stopping the Taliban and fighting Al Qaeda, this bill brings the relationship right back to being transactional: Cash for blood.

This is bad for the Pakistani government. And its bad for the Americans as well. Mr Zaidi points out that the Pakistani state is clearly not an effective one - the whole raison d'etre of providing aid aimed at building governmental and economic infrastructure is to make it effective. Yet this aid is conditional on the Pakistani state acting effectively against the militants. This is not a winning strategy.

Far more astute would be a strategy which provides aid aimed at building institutional capacity regardless of the war on terror, and making military aid conditional of performance. This is what Joe Biden has suggested and there's no good reason not to go for this idea. Eventually the idea would sink in to the military types in Islamabad that their strategic interests would be furthered by dismantling the Jihadist framework of regional security than by hanging on to it.


Rabia said...

Absolutely agree. The aid needs to be unconditional and tied to very specific projects. I don't know if you read Dexter Filkins' report in the NYT magazine which is making the rounds all over the internet -- many commenters are surprised at Filkins' source in the Pakistan army who admitted that Pakistan has been supporting the Taliban to get more conditional military aid from the US, but why this should be surprising to anyone who has looked at the pattern of US military aid to Pakistan over the last 7 years is a mystery.

Z said...

Interesting. I find Mosharraf Zaidi's complaint that Pakistan "deserves" more aid, and his comparison with Georgia, rather pathetic. Per capita, per GDP, and per body-count aid figures are irrelevant. Aid for different countries is negotiated and handed out on the basis of differing geopolitical calculi vis-a-vis the interests of the United States. MZ concludes that the "Senator Biden and his colleagues...perpetuate the impression that Pakistan is primarily a tool for the pursuit of US national security objectives". Yet, in actuality, it is MZ himself who is perpetuating this impression. The inability of Pakistan's intellectual elite to break out of the shackles of this American-constructed world view continues to astound me.