18
May

The Double Game

Written on May 18, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Americas, Asia, Foreign Policy, International Conflict, Terrorism & Security

The unintended consequences of American funding in Pakistan.
 
 
It’s the end of the Second World War, and the United States is deciding what to do about two immense, poor, densely populated countries in Asia. America chooses one of the countries, becoming its benefactor. Over the decades, it pours billions of dollars into that country’s economy, training and equipping its military and its intelligence services. The stated goal is to create a reliable ally with strong institutions and a modern, vigorous democracy. The other country, meanwhile, is spurned because it forges alliances with America’s enemies.

The country not chosen was India, which “tilted” toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Pakistan became America’s protégé, firmly supporting its fight to contain Communism. The benefits that Pakistan accrued from this relationship were quickly apparent: in the nineteen-sixties, its economy was an exemplar. India, by contrast, was a byword for basket case. Fifty years then went by. What was the result of this social experiment?

India has become the state that we tried to create in Pakistan. It is a rising economic star, militarily powerful and democratic, and it shares American interests. Pakistan, however, is one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and a covert sponsor of terrorism. Politically and economically, it verges on being a failed state. And, despite Pakistani avowals to the contrary, America’s worst enemy, Osama bin Laden, had been hiding there for years—in strikingly comfortable circumstances—before U.S. commandos finally tracked him down and killed him, on May 2nd.

American aid is hardly the only factor that led these two countries to such disparate outcomes. But, at this pivotal moment, it would be a mistake not to examine the degree to which U.S. dollars have undermined our strategic relationship with Pakistan—and created monstrous contradictions within Pakistan itself.

American money began flowing into Pakistan in 1954, when a mutual defense agreement was signed. During the next decade, nearly two and a half billion dollars in economic assistance, and seven hundred million in military aid, went to Pakistan. After the 1965 Pakistan-India war began, the U.S. essentially withdrew aid to both countries. Gradually, U.S. economic aid was restored, but the Pakistani military was kept on probation.

Those civilian-aid programs were largely successful. Christine Fair, a specialist on South Asia at the Center for Peace and Security Studies, at Georgetown University, notes that the original model for economic assistance was “demand driven”—local groups or governments proposed projects and applied for grants. Aid usually came in the form of matching funds, so that grantees had a stake in the projects. Moreover, American specialists presided over the disbursement of these funds and served as managers. “That was effective,” Fair says. “But we haven’t done it for decades.” Read more…

 As published in www.newyorker.com on May 16, 2011 (a version of this article appeared in print on May 16, 2011, on page 91 of The New Yorker).

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