In today’s New York Times, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid examines the causes of rising anti-Americanism in Pakistan, and notes that American aid has largely been unproductive in improving relations because it’s been targeted to boosting the military, rather than improving civilian infrastructure and institutions.
And in Pakistan, people see no lasting economic benefit from the $20 billion Washington has spent there since 2001. It has bought a lot of military equipment, but no dam or university or electric power plant…
…American attempts to change this course with either carrots or sticks are rebuffed, while the civilian government cowers in the background, not wanting to get trampled by the two bull elephants of American and Pakistani military will. Meanwhile the voices of extremism translate anti-Americanism into denunciations of Americans’ own treasured ideals: democracy, liberalism, tolerance and women’s rights. These days, all are pronounced Western or American concepts, and dismissed.
The solution, then, is not to break ties or cut aid to Pakistan, but to reorient US aid policy towards strengthening the civilian government so that it is no longer the weaker player in the struggle to define policy and guide public opinion. Investing in the Diamer Bhasha dam project is one example of how US aid could be targeted to specific projects that would improve long term development and, as a result, stability.
The underlying goals for any US aid investment should be to improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. As Ahmed Rashid points out, during the 1980s and the early 2000s, American administrations preferred to deal with military dictators who used American short-term security goals as a way to consolidate their own power by playing the US and extremist militants against each other. It’s time to try something different.
In identifying aid recipients, the US should always work directly with the democratically elected civilian government so that it can stand up to the “bull elephant” of the Pakistani military and perform its role as the proper and legitimate authority for determining and implementing official policy. By strengthening democratic civilian institutions, the US will then meet its primary aid goal – improving the lives of all Pakistanis. And with that, public perception will improve naturally.