Having bitten the hand that feeds it too often, Pakistan is being punished with the loss of $800 million in US military aid. Withholding the portion earmarked for training and equipping Pakistani forces will sting. But the biggest blow is the $300 million cash reimbursement for money Pakistan has already spent on operations along the Afghan border; a penalty some commentators claim will end up harming the broader economy because the payment goes directly into Pakistan’s treasury.
When I hear such warnings, I can’t help but wonder how much of those treasury funds end up lining the pockets of the country’s military elite, not to mention the ISI (which is largely staffed by former military)? In my view, it’s pointless separating Pakistan’s broader economy from the military because the army controls how the country’s resources are allocated. The real question to ask therefore is not who will aid cuts impact, but why should the west continue to provide any form of aid to Pakistan?
Take Britain for example. In April, Prime Minister David Cameron outlined plans to make Islamabad the single biggest recipient of British foreign aid by increasing the amount of education aid to Pakistan to £650 million over the next four years (the total UK aid spend to Pakistan for 2009-10 was £140.4 million). Honestly, I don’t know why Mr. Cameron doesn’t simply bypass the middleman and wire the funds directly into the offshore bank accounts of corrupt Pakistani officials because that’s where much of it will likely end up. Mr. Cameron put a national security spin on the proposed package, claiming that by tackling illiteracy in Pakistan we will be eliminating a “root cause” of Islamic extremism and terrorism. I hate to break it to the Prime Minister, but over the past six years, I’ve met a handful of captured, hard-line Taliban from Pakistan and all of them had university educations. It wasn’t illiteracy that had radicalized them, but western policies in South Asia and the Middle East (the same policies have radicalized British-born Pakistani militants as well).
It’s time to face facts: education and other hearts and minds initiatives in Pakistan have a dismal track record and to throw good money after bad at a time when Britain is closing libraries, village schools and pricing higher education beyond the reach of the average citizen is grossly irresponsible.
Some will counter that if the West doesn’t buy influence in Pakistan, China will step into the vacuum. Beijing already has by investing billions in Pakistan. And unlike the west, it does not conduct drone strikes in the tribal areas or demand Pakistan’s military weed out Afghan Taliban, nor does it make a big deal about human rights violations. In fact, Beijing turns a blind eye to the systematic oppression of ethnic Baluch in Baluchistan province where it is developing a treasured deep water port.
So far, China is getting a great return on its investment, gaining a strategic foothold in the Arabian Gulf and selling Pakistan military aircraft and submarines. But should Pakistan’s millions of downtrodden rise up and demand their fair cut, Beijing and every other nation that has propped up Pakistan’s corrupt and ineffective establishment could very well get their comeuppance. In the meantime, Pakistan’s military will continue to play its double game of going after anti-Islamabad militants while coddling Afghan Taliban targeting coalition forces.
So let’s cut all of our aid to Pakistan and spend the money at home. Islamabad can go cap in hand to some other nation. Because until they are challenged from within, Pakistan’s corrupt elite will do as they like, aid or no aid.