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Wealthy nations move to shore up Pakistan

In Tokyo, nearly 30 countries pledged $5.28 billion to bolster its weak economy and government.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 18, 2009

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zadari (r.) shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso at the Pakistan Donors Conference in Tokyo on Friday.

Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

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New Delhi

Concerns about the stability of Pakistan are opening up the international community's wallet.

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In Tokyo Friday, a group of wealthy nations pledged to give Pakistan $5.28 billion over the next two years to help shore up its slumping economy and fragile civilian government. The US kicked in $1 billion, a downpayment on plans moving through Congress to send $1.5 billion a year in development aid for at least the next five years.

The money has touched off a controversy over how to improve the effectiveness of aid to Pakistan, as well as how much reform to expect from Islamabad in return. Pakistani officials are balking at "micromanagement," but many experts argue passionately for more dialogue on accountability.

"I think the time is passed where we can keep cutting checks to Pakistan without knowing how this money is going to be spent," says Ashley Tellis, a South Asia analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Between 2002 and 2008, the US poured $11.2 billion into Pakistan – more than $8 billion of it to the military. Some of that money remains poorly accounted for, according to the General Accounting Office and aid experts.

And the return on that investment has been minimal, argues Christine Fair, a regional expert at the RAND Corp. She places blame on both sides of the relationship. In some cases, the US knew it was funding programs that were bound to fall flat, she says, because their real purpose was more a "strategic bribe" to gain influence over the military regime in Islamabad.

"We even lie to ourselves internally about the program objectives of our aid. Until we clarify for ourselves, how can we lay forward benchmarks for the Pakistanis?" she asks.

As the hat gets passed around again for Pakistan, donor countries are voicing more of these concerns. Rather than reserving most money for the military, Congress is focusing its aid on civilian development. Varying bills contain provisions that aim to enforce more accountability for the spending and to nudge Islamabad to do more to fight militancy.

Officials from some of the nearly 30 countries and international organizations at the Tokyo gathering also used the moment to urge Pakistan to crackdown on the spreading insurgency.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari assured leaders that such action was a priority. "Despite the fact that I lost the mother of my children [to assassination], I have taken up this challenge – to lead Pakistan out of these difficult times," he said. "If we lose, you lose. If we lose, the world loses."

Yet earlier this week, top Pakistani officials objected strongly to initial efforts to tie American aid to progress in that fight. The prime minister warned against attaching "conditionalities," a message echoed by Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani.