Can’t Buy Me Love

Soon after news of Osama bin Laden’s death flashed on TV screens, American voices from across the spectrum asked: why should we waste time on an errant Pakistan unwilling and unable to deliver?

Fair question. After all, the man the U.S. spent hundreds of billions looking for in Afghanistan was found in Pakistan, the third largest recipient of American aid. But the argument for choking aid is based on two old and deadly fallacies: that development aid and security assistance are dictated by a linear logic, and that the endgames in Pakistan and Afghanistan are synonymous.
For decades, Washington has been only too eager to throw money at Pakistan in the hope of altering its security paradigm. Expecting strategic returns, it has committed economic assistance and political support to regimes both civilian and military. But what the U.S. hasn’t learned is that money can’t buy Pakistan’s strategic outlook—its paranoias, real or imagined, about India and Afghanistan.
But what money can buy is development — only if the short term goals for Pakistan’s stabilization are replaced with a longer-term vision for sustainable development and capacity building of civilian sectors. The economic stability, improved governance, and strengthened civilian institutions the U.S. keeps pledging millions for will have to be dehyphenated from security objectives.
This doesn’t mean Pakistan can do as it pleases, but pushes for the more reasonable option of making domestic reform the foundation of continued civilian aid. One place to begin, and the IMF is rightly putting much pressure on this front, is the problem of a single digit tax-to-GDP ratio. If Washington wants to really use its economic leverage, it should push for structural tax reforms, and help build the capacity to push back against the handful of elite who have stalled reform. In essence, tax reform should be nonnegotiable.
This is key if Washington wants to protect itself from being held accountable time and again for Pakistan’s mistakes. If the billions for development are accompanied with expectations of major transformations on the security front, the U.S. is bound to be disappointed. The Pakistani government, made lazy by a history of easy money, needs to learn that utilizing aid is its own responsibility and no one else’s. This is something the people of Pakistan must know, and which the U.S., as many experts have suggested, needs to use public messaging to get across: that success or failure is the responsibility of Pakistan’s own government.
Delinking civilian aid from security objectives is as important as abandoning the Afghanistan prism through which the U.S. has viewed Pakistan — at least for the first six years after 9/11. The first real break in this old logic came with the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, which ones South Asia expert recently called the beginning of US thinking “about Pakistan for Pakistan’s sake.”
Thinking about Pakistan for Pakistan’s sake means chalking out an unambiguous plan for the reconciliation phase in Afghanistan and figuring out how Pakistan’s civilian government and security establishment can play a positive role in the process. It also involves taking care of Pakistan’s India concerns not only through intelligence-to-intelligence dialogue, but also by identifying avenues for India-Pakistan cooperation.
America’s decision to broaden its relationship with Pakistan rested on the answer to this question: could it afford to abandon a country of 180 million people, 100 million of them under the age of 24, believed to possess the fifth largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and increasingly the global magnet for militants?
This is not blackmail. It is simply an acknowledgement of the fact that, for better or worse, Pakistan’s stability is connected to long-term American security interests.
Finally: throughout the history of the Pakistan-U.S. relationship, Washington has been caught between dealing with corrupt civilians and outmoded military men. More often than not, it has chosen to work with the latter. This must change. As tempting as it is to pick the more organised military over bumbling civilians, the U.S. will have to be more resolute and patient with the civilian leadership. Because on the other side of patience lies one of the world’s largest youth bulges, militancy, extremism, nuclear weapons, and what Bruce Riedel calls “the unthinkable”: a jihadist state in Pakistan.
With bin Laden dead, is the US mission accomplished in Pakistan? Is it time to move on? Think again.

  1 comment for “Can’t Buy Me Love

    May 13, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Yea the united states shouldn’t cut aid to Pakistan. However, I believe that more cooperation is necessary within the governments, however the anti-west sentiment in Pakistan is tough to overcome. The us mission is over by no means, Pakistan has a lot of work that needs done, both civically and militarily.

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