Hillary Clinton in Pakistan: building trust

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is showing America's long-term commitment to Pakistan by announcing US development aid that will eventually amount to $7.5 billion. Assistance with electricity, water, and health are practical steps that can help build Pakistani trust in America.

AFP Photo/ POOL / Paul J. Richards/Newscom
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton shakes hands and is greeted by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as she arrives for a bilateral meeting with him at the Pakistani foreign ministry in Islamabad on July 19, 2010.

In announcing $500 million to help Pakistanis generate more electricity, the US is putting its money where its mouth is. And that could make all the difference in restoring Pakistani trust in America.

Hillary Rodham Clinton made the announcement on her two-day trip to Pakistan, the second visit since she became secretary of State. This touch-down went much better than her first one, perhaps because she followed through with concrete help to improve Pakistani lives – and prove America’s commitment to this key player in the war in Afghanistan.

Many Pakistanis are skeptical and critical of the United States. They resent America abandoning them after Pakistan cooperated with the US to drive the Soviets from neighboring Afghanistan, and also Washington's post-cold war warming with Pakistani arch-rival, India. They don’t like America’s unmanned drone attacks on insurgents hiding in Pakistan – attacks that also sometimes kill civilians. They didn’t appreciate Washington’s steady support for former dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf, nor the imbalance in US aid, almost all of it military.

The Pakistani media, particularly, are rife with strident accusations. They’ve made wild claims that the US is behind suicide bomb attacks in their Muslim country, and that America’s real goal is to take over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

But now the US has a way to show that it’s interested in Pakistan’s long-term growth, not just its security role in this volatile corner of the world. The announced aid is the first tranche of $7.5 billion in US development assistance to be delivered over five years.

The project list for this first batch is practical, which is what will make it effective (unless, that is, the projects are sabotaged by insurgents or the aid is squandered). Two hydroelectric dams will bring power to more than 300,000 residents near the Afghanistan border. The location is as important as the project itself if supporters of insurgents are to be wooed.

Other projects include renovating or constructing three hospitals in the major cities of Lahore and Karachi, as well as an overhaul of metropolitan water supplies and irrigation help. Power and water problems are daily frustrations for Pakistanis.

Practicality surfaced elsewhere on Secretary Clinton’s trip. She and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced a historic trade deal between Afghanistan and Pakistan that will allow Afghanistan to use Pakistan’s land-border to export goods to India (pomegranates instead of poppies, is the thought). Trade talks began way back in 1965, but were never finished. The US has pushed hard for this deal.

Improving people’s lives is critical to bringing stability to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. It can also go a long way in building trust.

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