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The recent New York Times editorial, Is Pakistan Worth America’s Investment?, perpetuates the idea that the United States can use its economic assistance to Pakistan as a cudgel to extract better performance from the government in its fight against terrorism. There are two problems with that idea.
The first is that America’s $500 million a year of “economic” aid brings any leverage. Compared to the Pakistani government’s own budget of around $30.7 billion annually, $500 million is a pittance. Threatening to withdraw this money, which is designed, for example, to increase access to schooling or provide minimal access to energy in the interests of job creation is unlikely to persuade the Pakistani government to do a better job of, say, raising taxes on its insider elites or improving its own education systems. No doubt the civilian government would like to raise taxes and spend more on schooling; no doubt it has difficulty doing so because of its own internal politics, and because the army will take first dibs on any additional domestic revenue. But the United States’ ability to influence this through its economic aid is minimal.
Second is the assumption that the purpose of the American “economic” or development aid is leverage. In fact the purpose is to invest in democracy and economic opportunity in Pakistan, in the interests of prosperity and stability there. The military aid to Pakistan may provide a vehicle for dialogue with the army which may or may not be thought of as “leverage” in the fight against terrorism. The development aid is about investing in making Americans more secure in a dangerous world; Americans will be more secure when Pakistan, a nuclear power, is itself more secure, prosperous and democratic. Development aid has the additional benefit of reflecting America’s values and generosity as well as its security and commercial interests. Conflating development aid with military is a dangerous trap that we should try to avoid.
2014 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for US-Pakistan relations. The US will be pulling out of Afghanistan; the Strategic Dialogue is continuing; and Kerry-Lugar-Berman will expire. And these are just the knowns.
CGD’s Study Group on US Development Strategy in Pakistan has spent the past several years identifying where US development strategy in Pakistan has gone wrong—and identifying practical solutions for improvement. Following our latest Study Group meeting, Nancy Birdsall, president of CGD and chair of the study group, sent this open letter to Ambassador Jim Dobbins, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to current estimates, some 10,000 people have been killed in the Philippines by super-typhoon Haiyan, 620,000 displaced, and over 9 million affected. Emergency relief and reconstruction assistance will be required on a large scale and for an extended period – perhaps more frequently in future years as climate change leads to an increase in extreme weather events.