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Pro: The billions we’ve spent in Pakistan have won neither hearts nor minds

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John B. Quigley
May 5, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, Should the U.S. end aid to a Pakistan?

Pakistan is a major beneficiary of U.S. aid.


Since 2002, we have given Pakistan more than $18 billion. It now appears that Osama bin Laden was living for at least five years in a specially built compound within a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s major military academy.


Even if bin Laden did not don his sandals each morning to buy bread in the local market, it strains credulity to believe that no higher-up in the Pakistan government was aware of his presence.


Yet Congress hopes that by spreading our largesse, Pakistan will act on our side in fighting terrorism. The aid projects are high-visibility—rural electrification and school construction—so that the population will see them as products of our beneficence.


In 2009, Congress authorized up to $1.5 billion in aid each year for five years. Even before the bin Laden killing, that aid was questioned on grounds of efficiency, particularly because of corruption in the Pakistani government.


In February the U.S. Government Accounting Office reported that of the $1.5 billion allocated for 2010, only $179.5 million had actually been disbursed.


The problem is ensuring that the Pakistani agencies responsible will handle the funds properly.


The U.S. Agency for International Development was to reconstruct 115 schools destroyed in Pakistan’s Swat Valley two years ago in fighting between the Pakistani army and the Pakistani Taliban. To date, not a single school has been completed.


Beyond efficiency issues, the aid money and our strategic policies seem to the Pakistanis to be headed in opposite directions. The Obama administration has made liberal use of attacks from drone aircraft in the northern tribal areas of Pakistan.


Drone attacks are wildly unpopular in Pakistan. Residents in the affected areas are terrorized, because they never know when a missile will descend out of the sky. Many in Pakistan view the aid as an attempt to get the population to swallow the drone attacks.


Our use of CIA agents in Pakistan without knowledge of the Pakistan government is another source of concern. The fatal shooting of two Pakistanis by CIA operative Raymond Davis in January brought the developing resentment over the drone attacks to a crescendo.


And what is viewed as our continuing denigration of Palestinian national aspirations angers the populace, even as President Obama proclaims ever more loudly that our policies are not anti-Muslim.


Giving billions in aid to get a country to do what we want involves a leap of faith. Our track record is not good.


When President Jimmy Carter got Egypt and Israel to sign the 1979 Camp David peace agreement, he upped our aid to Israel and began massive aid to Egypt. The aid to Egypt gained the compliance of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but Egypt’s new government is taking policy initiatives on regional issues without checking with Washington. Even our aid to Israel, the largest beneficiary, has yielded no great love for the Obama administration in Israel.


We are, of course, running huge budget deficits in our overall government expenditures, so a few billion here or there affects how much we must raise taxes, or cut expenditures.


The assault on bin Laden’s compound is widely viewed in Pakistan as an effort to give us a face-saving way to scale down our involvement in Afghanistan. While bin Laden is not popular there, the assault is not seen as a game-changer in dealing with terrorism, and the Pakistanis may well be correct.


Our aid to Pakistan is not reaping the rewards Congress sought.


By our aid we are hoping—probably naively—to get Pakistanis to accept practices they do not like, practices about which we should have second thoughts anyway. Getting our own practices oriented more rationally might win more hearts and minds in Pakistan than billions in aid dollars.


John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University. Readers may write to him at Moritz College Law, 55 West 12th Street, Columbus, Ohio 43210.

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