Experts fear U.S. plan to triple aid to Pakistan could backfire
WASHINGTON — Experts on Pakistan doubt that a U.S. plan to triple aid to the country will help domestic conditions, and are extremely concerned the money could be spent on unauthorized pursuits like strengthening defenses against India—perhaps even winding up in the hands of American enemies–rather than helping the U.S. win the war on terror.
President Obama recently signed the “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan” Act, which gives Pakistan $1.5 billion in aid a year over the next five years. Lawmakers say they hope the $7.5 billion in funding will reduce anti-American sentiment and help bring stability to the region. The money is supposed to go toward Pakistan’s social and economic development, funding things like schools, roads and water purification, but Pakistan could ultimately also receive military aid from the legislation.
The measure, however, comes on the heels of media and academic reports that the U.S. has been unable to account for how Pakistan has spent the vast majority of recent military aid funding.
Harvard scholar Azeem Ibrahim notes in his academic report entitled “How America is Funding Corruption in Pakistan” that the Army spent most U.S. aid money “on types of military equipment that are practically useless against terrorists.”
“It bought an air defense radar system costing $200 million, for example, even though the terrorists in the frontier region have no air capability,” Ibrahim pointed out in his study. “The military bought F-16 fighter jets, aircraft-mounted armaments, and anti-ship defense systems. And the U.S. Department of Defense signed off on it.”
Ibrahim concludes that “U.S. taxpayers have funded Pakistani corruption and undermined the fight against terrorism and militancy.”
The Associated Press reported in early October that only $500 million of the $6.6 billion in American aid intended for the military given to the country between 2002 and 2008 actually made it to the Pakistani military.
The article noted that Pervez Musharraf served as both chief of staff and president of Pakistan during the time the aid was misused, “making it easier to divert money intended for the military to bolster his sagging image at home through economic subsidies.”
Musharraf himself suggested in a mid-September televised interview that he may have violated the terms of earlier U.S. aid deals because he believes it is not possible for the country to separate arms funded by the U.S. to assist in the war on terror from other weapons it may have purchased to defend itself from India.
“There is nothing like equipment having been given to us which will only be used against Taliban,” Musharraf said. “This is not a physical possibility, we are not organized that way. The units and the regiments will carry that equipment wherever they go, whether it is on the western front or the eastern front. And as far as Pakistan is concerned, when our security is threatened, whether it is from Taliban we will use it against them, and if it is from the East, from India, we will certainly use all our equipment, all our resources–whatever the source–against that threat.”
Even with Musharraf out of power, experts do not think the U.S. has any means of evaluating how Pakistan will spend the billions of dollars in aid.
“They’ll do it again. They’ve cheated us before and now they’re asking for a higher price,” Boston University Professor Thomas Barfield told Raw Story. “This money is supposed to go to help people of Pakistan, but we have no way of tracking that and even if they do get it, they never say its from us so it doesn’t win us a lot of friends. It’s an awful lot of money but we’ve given Pakistan an awful lot of money before and the track record has not been very good.”
Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Professor Christine Fair agreed.
“We have no way of knowing what they will use the money for,” Fair told Raw Story. “There is no transparency in Pakistan’s budget, especially on nuclear issues. That has been the ongoing saga for years. I don’t know how we would have any visibility or means of accounting for how that money is spent.”
Although the bill prevents Pakistan from using either the aid money, or money saved because of US funding, to bolster Pakistan’s nuclear program, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar has dodged media questions about those terms of the agreement.
The Dawn, a major English language newspaper in Pakistan, quoted Babar as saying about the nuclear conditions: “We will cross the bridge when we come to it.”
Former New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer,who spent years covering the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, said in a phone interview with Raw Story that even if the U.S. dollars themselves aren’t used to bolster nuclear programs or aid American enemies, the dramatic increase in assistance gives Pakistan more space in its own budget to spend money on potentially controversial items.
“Any time you give a country aid for one purpose, you are freeing its money to be used for another purpose,” Kinzer told Raw Story. “It would be foolish for us not to believe that Pakistan will ask for all the aid it can from the US to do whatever we want it to do, and then use whatever money it can raise on its own to do what it wants to do, and one of those things is funding its nuclear program.”
But U.S. lawmakers continue to champion the bill as “landmark legislation.”
Andy Fisher, spokesman for Indiana Republican Sen. Dick Lugar who co-sponsored the measure in the Senate with Sen. John Kerry, told Raw Story that Lugar is not concerned about misuse of funding in the aid bill.
“There are substantial oversight provisions that actually kept getting strengthened over the past 1.5 years,” Fisher said. “In fact the bill has been criticized as being too restrictive and having too much oversight by some people in Pakistan.”
Kerry’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Raw Story over the past month.
Even as experts and Indian officials express concerns over the aid bill, Pakistani officials have called the $7.5 billion in American aid “peanuts” and people throughout the country have said it amounts to U.S. intervention into Pakistan’s affairs.
Pakistan could also eventually receive money for military assistance from the legislation, if they pass reviews on whether Pakistan is helping fight terrorism and cease the spread of nuclear weapons first. The measure is full of waivers, however, that allow the U.S. Secretary of State to exempt Pakistan from some of the conditions. Some Pakistani publications have mentioned “the bill is far less prescriptive and stringent in its language than the original version” and “the language related to nuclear proliferation is markedly toned down,” as American lawmakers struggled to make the package palatable to Pakistani officials.
Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Professor Christine Fair noted the aid conditions are so lax it doesn’t even spell out how Pakistan will be judged on whether it is helping to fight terrorism and cease nuclear proliferation before the country can get access to military funding,
“There’s no metric of what satisfactory progress may be,” Fair said during an interview with Raw Story. “Basically the secretary of state just has to say it’s fine.”
Lugar’s spokesman maintains the measure is vital to the future of relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.
“The stability of Pakistan is extraordinarily important in terms of the region and U.S. security in terms of trying to reduce the possibility of terrorist elements to recruit people and continue to operate in Pakistan and on the Afghan/Pakistan border,” Fisher said in a phone interview with Raw Story. “The view we heard in the hearings over the past few years is the investment in trying to develop civil institutions in Pakistan is far cheaper than military operations in Afghanistan or elsewhere that are essentially trying to get at the same goals of stability.”
In early October, though, The Washington Post reported that U.S. officials still have serious concerns about the Taliban’s presence in Pakistan. The article noted that fundraising and recruitment posters had appeared on walls across Quetta “asking people to contribute their money, vehicles and son to ‘fight against occupying forces’ across the border in Afghanistan.”
Bill Roggio, the managing editor of The Long War Journal, says reports exist that at times Pakistan has “paid off the Taliban.”
“Sometimes those reports said the money came directly from US funds that were allocated to help in the war on terror,” Roggio told Raw Story. “But, it doesn’t really matter. If Pakistan is paying the Taliban to do or not do something, then in some way the aid money is directly going to our enemies.”
Sanjay Puri, executive director of the U.S. Indian Political Action Committee, said he supports help for domestic needs in Pakistan but has similar concerns about the lack of accountability for how the country’s leaders spend U.S. taxpayer dollars.
“If there is no accountability, there is no transparency, and money has a way to going to wherever the most powerful ideology is in Pakistan,” Sanjay Puri told Raw Story. “There are people in the Army or [military intelligence agency] who have an ideological sympathy towards activities of the Taliban and extremists. It is a very thin line in Pakistan at this point.”