As Congress continues looking for ways to trim spending, officials in the Obama administration are worried that some lawmakers may be considering shrinking civilian aid to Pakistan. They are right to worry as this would be a mistake.
Experts on both Pakistan and international aid and development agree – attempts to ‘buy’ Pakistan’s cooperation will always fail. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, using civilian aid as a ‘carrot’ by tying disbursement to unrelated security conditions is deeply humiliating. The underlying change mechanism requires that a sovereign government be, in essence, for sale. Even if one can find such a pliable partner, their shelf life will invariably be limited.
Another reason that aid is not a realistic tool of leverage is that the amounts in question are simply not large enough to buy anyone off. As we noted last month,
The Kerry-Lugar-Burman bill (KLB) provides for $1.5 billion in economic aid annually for five years. While this aid is valuable, it represents about 0.3 percent of the nation’s GDP. Moreover, in the first year of KLB, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that only $179.5 million was actually disbursed. Even if it were possible to buy Pakistan’s cooperation, this amount of foreign aid is simply insufficient to do so.
But the most convincing reason is found in empirical evidence – what are the outcomes we have seen from US aid? Since the US pledged billions of dollars in civilian aid to Pakistan – all tied to security-related conditions – military-to-military relations between the US and Pakistan have actually soured. If aid is tool of leverage, it’s a very bad one. But that doesn’t mean that civilian aid has not had a positive impact.
Though delivery mechanisms still need improvement, as the Washington Post reporter found, using aid as an investment in improving the lives of ordinary Pakistanis does pay long term dividends.
Last summer, USAID used $500 million to help Pakistan cope with ruinous floods. More than $60 million went toward seed and fertilizer for farmers whose crops were flooded out in villages such as Jangi, in the northwest, where anger pulsates over CIA drone strikes in the nearby tribal belt.
On a recent day, farmers in the village said they had expected to lose this spring’s wheat harvest. Instead, there was a bumper crop, and they attributed the success to U.S.-funded seeds and canals.
“Earlier, it was our perception that the United States was only for destruction,” said Noor Nabi, a community leader in the village. “But in that critical time, it helped us.”
Civilian aid can result in outcomes that benefit both Pakistani and American interests. In order for this to happen, though, the US needs to reconsider the goals of civilian aid. The goal should not be to ‘buy’ Pakistani cooperation, but to strengthen civilian institutions and civil society so that America’s natural allies in Pakistan – the Pakistani people – have the ability to determine Pakistan’s future.
Sadanand Dhume, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that “democracy, however messy, is the only alternative to the military-jihadist complex that has stunted Pakistan’s economy and tarnished its international reputation.”
A sensible Pakistan policy, as outlined by [Bruce Riedel], would make strengthening its fragile civilian institutions the underlying goal of all U.S. engagement. The U.S. needs strong intelligence and military-to-military ties with its Pakistani counterparts, but unlike in the past these should not come at the cost of stunting Pakistani democracy.
Using aid as a means of leverage in military-to-military relations weakens US influence and delays democratic reforms that will move Pakistan away from destructive, anti-democratic policies rooted in a Cold War mindset. By continuing to use aid as a ‘carrot’ to lure Pakistan into taking actions that provide short-term security gains, the US is actually setting back its own long-term objectives for the region. It’s time for a new approach.