Why Pakistanis would reject $7.5 billion in US aid

New poll indicates that the Kerry-Lugar bill, already confronting opposition from Pakistan's political and military establishment, faces a wave of popular distrust of the US as well.

Fayaz Aziz/REUTERS
A demonstrator jumps over burning tires during an anti-American rally in Peshawar October 7. Dozens of supporters of Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami gathered in the streets of Peshawar to voice their discontent with the Kerry-Lugar U.S. aid bill.

The United States is offering $7.5 billion to Pakistan for development – but only 15 percent of Pakistanis support accepting it, according to a Gilani Poll/Gallup Pakistan survey released Wednesday. It is not affiliated with the Gallup polling group in the US.

Barely a quarter of the 2,500 Pakistanis polled believe the money earmarked in a bill put forward by Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts and Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana will improve the ordinary lives of the people.

The poll comes after Pakistan's military and political opposition strenuously objected to various strings attached to the aid, opening a rift in US-Pakistan relations.

Senator Kerry said Wednesday that there are no conditions attached to the bill that "impinge" on Pakistan's sovereignty. But the people of Pakistan, it seems, aren't convinced. The outcome of the poll suggests that the US, which is facing opposition from Pakistan's entrenched political and military establishment, is also confronting a wave of popular distrust of US motivations.

"It's not something that only the Islamabad pols discuss," says Ijaz Shafi Gilani, the Gilani Poll/Gallup Pakistan pollster. "It's not only about the conditionalities [on the money], but disenchantment with aid as an instrument of development."

The bill's controversial conditions

The conditions on the Kerry-Lugar aid that have proved most controversial include "direct access" to Pakistani nationals associated with nuclear proliferation, ensuring civilian authority over military promotions, and certification by the US Secretary of State that Pakistan is cooperating on counterterrorism.

Additionally, the tone of the whole document is "quite humiliating," says Khalid Rahman, head of the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad. The bill states that monitoring and certification requirements can be waived if it's in the American national interest, meaning "it will be the American interests – not the Pakistani interests – that will be served."

Initial efforts by the Pakistani government to declare the bill a success have fueled the outrage, since some of the concessions supposedly won through its lobbying efforts in Washington ring hollow. Congress merely inserted vaguer language, critics say.

"They took out "India‚" but instead they put in the wording of "neighboring countries." You know and I know we are not neighbors of Tanzania and South Africa," says Sen. Tariq Aziz, a spokesman for the opposition PML-N party.

US skepticism

Pakistan's Army vociferously objected to the bill earlier this month – after the US Senate passed it. The military's intervention, coupled with a backdrop of past misuse of US funds, lead some US experts to caution against taking Pakistan's objections too seriously.

"The problem for Pakistan is that it knows the Kerry-Lugar restrictions represent legitimate US concerns ... not in the interests of the Pakistani Army and other elites," writes Timothy Hoyt, a regional expert at the US Naval War College, in Foreign Policy magazine. "[R]ather than reject the remarkably generous provision of aid, Pakistan's military will seek a work-around in practice ... maintaining their questionable activities at a sufficiently ambiguous level."

Could US goals backfire?

But if one American goal was to champion greater civilian control over the military, this bill will only accomplish the opposite, argues Mr. Rahman.

"There are very few people in Pakistan who endorse military rule, so the Army has already lost that ground, and it knows its limitations," he says. "Greater [public] trust in civilian institutions will not come with American support – that, the Pakistani people will never trust."

A more successful US approach, he suggests, would have been to run the terms of the aid through Parliament rather than working through individual leaders, especially the deeply unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari.

'Ungrateful' nation?

Mr. Gilani, the pollster, admits that Pakistan may come off in his survey looking like "an ungrateful nation" to Americans. But, he says, after decades of American assistance, "there's a growing perception that foreign assistance doesn't deliver development."

There also appears to be a disconnect on whether the aid is all that generous. Senator Aziz figures that, given rapid inflation in Pakistan and the way huge chunks of foreign aid actually pass back to the United States through contractor salaries, the real purchasing power of the aid will diminish to roughly $200 million a year.

Both he and Rahman say the $7.5 billion over five years is a drop in the bucket compared with US taxpayer outlays in Afghanistan. Conservative estimates place the economic losses to Pakistan caused by the war on terror to be $35 billion, notes Rahman.

"Pakistan has suffered a lot in terms of money, in terms of human lives, in terms of law and order, in terms of losses in investments and infrastructure. If, after that, America comes up with $7.5 billion, but you are required to do this and this, I don't think Pakistanis are really convinced," says Rahman.

The Pakistani diaspora sends back $6 billion a year, suggesting to Rahman that his country ought to tap its own people instead for financial help with fewer strings attached.


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