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This is a joint post with Wren Elhai.

Joe Biden in Islamabad, 2011. Official White House photo

Vice-President Joe Biden is way ahead of the U.S. foreign policy community on the basics of what the United States can do in Pakistan. Let’s review two things he said during his recent visit to Islamabad, speaking to reporters from the perspective of someone who, during his time in the Senate, helped develop and championed the 5-year, $7.5 billion aid package now called Kerry-Lugar-Berman. First:

“The one last misconception I'd like to address is there are those who point to America’s history in this region and claim that eventually we will abandon Pakistan . . .we have learned from the past that . . . the only productive way forward is a long-term enduring partnership.”

In other words our strategy is to not have an exit strategy; there is going to be U.S. aid money flowing for a long time – not just five years, ideally at least 10 (that’s in the legislation). That’s a good thing. And aid is not to be a bargaining chip.  It doesn’t give the United States any “leverage” over Pakistani government policies. At its best, predictable aid is the vehicle for ongoing dialogue and engagement on how to do tough economic and political reforms.

“Rather than dictate to Pakistan how this money should be spent, we’re partnering with the government to achieve your priorities to lay a foundation for a sustainable long-term economic growth for this great country.”

Biden has both the process and the destination right. The destination is long-term growth, driven by a responsive, responsible, stable government. The process is to acknowledge that the only thing that ultimately works is having aid-recipient countries in the lead—as President Obama announced last year as U.S. aid policy and Secretary Clinton has declared central to her commitment to “development built on consultation rather than decree.”

But meanwhile in addition to its other troubles, Pakistan is backsliding on the fundamental reforms it needs to build that foundation for growth. Its political leaders have backed away from pricing reform in the energy sector and from long-delayed tax reform—after the ruling party’s coalition partners brought the government to the edge of collapse.

These events bode ill for Pakistan’s long-term prospects.  And, as has happened in the past, it will surely tempt the new deficit-aware U.S. Congress to cut this coming year’s appropriation for aid to Pakistan.  That would be a mistake.  Better to recognize aid is a risky business – but so is military intervention. And in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we spend a hundred times more per month on the former compared to the latter!

Meanwhile we have proposed a different kind of surge – in transparency inside Pakistan and by the administration with Congress.  We want to see the United States and Pakistan agree on a few simple indicators of Pakistan’s overall development progress, and measure and verify progress or regression on those at least once a year. This exercise would show the Hill and skeptical taxpayers and the people of Pakistan what the “long-term enduring partnership” Biden described is about. Read more on this idea in this CGD essay—and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.