On May 2, 2011 the United States finally killed the most wanted criminal in the world, Osama Bin Laden.
He had been living in Pakistan for six years. Far from trying to explain how it had been possible for bin Laden to hide in a conspicuous compound in a military town, Pakistan acted as the aggrieved party. A popular backlash against the raid saw American flags burnt in the street.
When the New York Times asked Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, what he felt was the biggest misconception America has about Pakistan, he replied: “that they can somehow bend Pakistan to their will simply with the leverage of aid.”
Since 2001 Pakistan has received $20 billion in U.S. aid. The bulk of this has been for Pakistan’s bloated military. The hefty sum has bought the U.S. acquiescence to drone strikes within Pakistan and duplicitous cooperation in counterterrorism.
This is an undated file photo of al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan. A selection of documents seized in last year's raid on bin Laden's Pakistan house was posted online Thursday, May 3, 2012 by the U.S. Army's Combating Terrorism Center. The documents show dark days for al-Qaida and its hunkered-down leader after years of attacks by the United States and what bin Laden saw as bumbling within his own organization and its terrorist allies. (Photo: AP, File)
Pakistan knows that to receive this aid it must be seen to be fighting the Taliban. It also knows that if it defeats the Taliban, the money will dry up. It therefore plays a duplicitous double-game.
In 2005, Fazlur Rehman, the leader of the radical Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party told Pakistan’s National Assembly “We will have to openly tell the world whether we want to support jihadis or crack down on them. We cannot afford to be hypocritical anymore.”
But Pakistan could afford it – America keeps paying up.
With such a disproportionate part of its budget spent on the military, Pakistan undoubtedly has all the soldiers and equipment necessary to clear tribal areas of the Taliban. A Taliban trainer of suicide bombers told the New York Times “The army comes in, and they fire at empty buildings. It is a drama — it is just to entertain.”
Mike Mullen, chairman of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called the Haqqani terrorist network a “veritable arm” of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Foreign aid has not improved the long-term prospects of the people of Pakistan. Samia Waheed Altaf has worked as a senior adviser to United States Agency for International Development's Health Office and as a consultant to the government of Pakistan. She has written a book about her experiences in the country appropriately titled "So Much Aid, So Little Development."
“To satisfy the donor’s demand for results, the Pakistani government builds service delivery outlets, such as health centers, that usually exist only on paper; if a few do exist physically, they remain empty and unused. Equipment bought with donor funds, which no one knows how to operate (or there is no electricity or fuel to run it), stands idle and rots in warehouses or is vandalized piece by piece.”
Failing to see the problem of development as an institutional and social one, in their rush to do something donors go on to their next project, with their previous efforts left to implode.
“The maintenance costs of facilities and equipment, staff salaries, the procurement of supplies, and day-to-day operational costs are the responsibility of the government, but the government does not take this responsibility seriously.”
Pakistan’s own former Education Minister Zobaida Jalal has stated that the millions of dollars of aid spent on education have failed to produce any tangible results. Of the many problems with education in the country, few can be solved by donating more funds.
Photo Credit: AP
William Easterly in his book "The Elusive Quest for Growth" assembles a depressing list of problems: “There is large scale cheating at examinations, supervised by unscrupulous or intimidated teachers. Three-quarters of the teachers could not pass the exams they administer to their students.”
Politicians give teaching jobs as patronage. One and a half million children in Pakistan attend madrasas. These students learn to recite the entire Koran in Arabic. They do little else but memorize verses by rote. Non-religious education in these institutions is sporadic at best and can involve learning medicine from texts written as far back as the 11th century.
In its attempt to pressure Pakistan against the development of nuclear weapons, the United States offered massive amounts of debt relief. Pakistan prioritized its nuclear program over helping its people.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stated, “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.”
The creation of nuclear weapons was greeted in Pakistan with widespread jubilation. Days after nuclear tests a government minister explained "We are a now nuclear state, so no-one can let us go bust. We may have turned down billions of dollars. But many more billions will follow."
This has proved correct. The country finds enough cash to fund the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal on the planet while the aid dollars continue to pour in.
Pakistani protesters burn a representation of a U.S. flag and an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama in the Pakistani border town of Chaman along the Afghanistan border on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. (Photo: AP)
A 2001 report commissioned by Gen. Musharraf found that if taxes did not rise significantly Pakistan “cannot be governed effectively” and “essential public services cannot be delivered.”
It concluded that “reform of tax administration is the single most important economic task for the government.” Bolstered by foreign aid, the reform never came.
In 2011, 251 out of 341 members of the National Assembly paid no income tax whatsoever. Without aid "we would be forced to make changes, reforms to the link between expenditure and revenues," argued Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Movement for Justice, in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
"Aid is like using aspirin to treat cancer," he said, "and the cancer is spreading."
Foreign aid has failed to buy a genuine attempt at tackling extremism, failed to stimulate development, fostered a lackadaisical attitude to tax reform, enabled perverse government priorities and utterly failed to win hearts and minds.
In a country to which the U.S. gives billions, hostility to the U.S. is pervasive.
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