Mittwoch, 27. Juli 2011

Is Cutting Aid to Pakistan a Good Idea?

Once the question is raised one might feel inclined to ask, whose foreign aid might be cut here? As so often, the debate is an American one, for once because its the only one that matters in terms of size of the aid and second the US is the only country having that debate. By the way, since these things usually are being debated in the US and the US is the larger donor here one might well challenge the commonly held assumption that we Europeans are somehow stronger in the soft-power domain...

On the one hand the case for aid to Pakistan should be relatively easy. Its a poor country and clearly a front-line in the war on terror. And indeed, if there only would be some momentum to an economic reconstruction or revival of the country much of the legitimacy of the different Taliban-networks in Pakistan would crumble. Or perhaps even crater. So fuelling that sort of economic growth and perhaps giving the Pakistani military a hand in defeating the militants should be an easy sell.

On the other hand, the budget needs to be cut somewhere and in light of what happened following the bin Laden raid—the arrest of those who actually revealed to the US where bin Laden was hiding, an FBI investigation into the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) efforts to lobby the US on Kashmir and bilateral relations that have hit rock-bottom despite the massive US aid—it looks like Pakistan is receiving quite a lot of cash for not so much and in fact declining cooperation, from a state who hasn't always been the steadfast ally one would wish for in the first place.

The Foreign Relations Authorization Act—which is where US foreign aid to Pakistan is being found—now has some language added to it that conditions aid to Pakistan on their willingness to really cooperate in the fight against Islamist militias (though its anyone’s guess how that is supposed to be verified). The US has already hold off $ 800 million in assistance for military operations for a lack of conditions being met. And in that particular case conditions were not defined in such politically astute ways of, lets say, no double-dealing with the Islamists you're secretly nurturing for your not so secret but insane rivalry with India, but for inconsistencies in their reimbursement claims. And the funny thing is this. Just the other day I trashed Dov Zakheim's new book, but he was at least outspoken on this. Ever since 9/11 the US wanted to reimburse Pakistan but had no earthly idea on how to do that. In fact, Pakistan could simply claim a sum and would get it, no receipts being asked for.

And more than that, when offered help in the fight against terrorism, the first thing Pakistan asked for were F-16s. The implications being that Pakistan used the war on terrorism as pretext to continue its preparations for the nonsense rivalry with India. Exactly the sort of behaviour that no one should have in interest in fostering. But in more general terms the amount of money funnelled to Pakistan is now so big that it hardly needs much imagination to think that the Pakistanis have a vested interest in keeping it going. And virtually every observer noted that it is the Pakistani government that has really mastered the diplomatic game of playing off partners against each other. Pakistan has played the China card whenever cutting aid was threatened and at the same time blocked any attempts to bring India into helping rebuilding Afghanistan. Cutting aid is actually a good idea. Not generally, of course. But in Pakistan's case. The double-dealing and awkwardness of the Pakistani government's behaviour is more than troubling. And as in any other case it might be worthwhile to ask what you're getting for your cooperation and aid (after all, if Gates can raise that issue with such allies as Germany and Poland it might be feasible to do the same with even more crucial partners in the war on terror).

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