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Rethinking foreign assistance —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad

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If we were to hate the US, then logically we should hate their money too. However, here is the dichotomy. We love their money and just as the Americans urge us to “do more” to curb extremism, we urge them to “do more” financially. This is where the hypocrisy comes in

It is advised that one should know one’s friends but even more important is to know one’s enemies. This piece of advice is an oft repeated one and one that wise individuals pay heed to. However, perhaps states and nations should also pay heed to it, particularly the state of Pakistan, in my modest opinion.

When we look at the foreign policy and our list of allies, there are some that are declared clear cut friends. When a Chinese delegation is in town, banners go up all over town celebrating Pak-China friendship. Growing up, I recall colourful banners proclaiming in Urdu, “Pak-China bhai bhai”. Such is the proclaimed brotherhood between the two countries that I am reminded of a joke going around in 1998 during the one week gap after India exhibited its nuclear strength. At the time there was speculation whether or not Pakistan would follow suit or prefer to keep its nuclear strength under wraps. The joke went something like this, “Question: Why did Pakistan publicly go nuclear a week after India? Answer: Because it takes a week to translate the operating instructions from Mandarin to English!” Then there is Saudi Arabia with whom our state relations are supposed to go beyond friendship. Our ‘Islamic bond’ is what makes us brothers and like an elder brother, Saudi Arabia is the guarantee of many a political deal. Saudi Arabia also over the decades has exported its own understanding of Islam in the form of Wahabiism, which is responsible for the literal interpretation of Islam that the Pakistani Taliban swear upon and kill by today.

Thus, China and Saudi Arabia are on the A-list of the slate of Pakistan’s friends. Then there are some countries with which we have a neutral kind of friendship such as Italy, France, etc. We neither love nor hate them but are essentially interested in their money. There is no animosity and any assistance or investment that they throw our way is welcomed.

Then there is the US — the country that is deemed responsible for everything that happens in Pakistan. Whether they are the elite drawing rooms of the chattering classes, the energy deprived homes of the Pakistani middle class or the slums of the country, the consensus amongst most of them is that the US, at the behest of the Jewish lobby, is out to destroy the country. As a friend remarked, perhaps the only thing that is common amongst all sections of Pakistanis is their belief that the US is involved in their political, social, economic, and if we were to believe the mullahs, even the sexual lives of Pakistanis. We have not forgotten those Friday khutbas where the mullahs waged a campaign against contraception and family planning, deeming it as an American ploy to curb the Muslim population in the world.

If we were to hate the US, then logically we should hate their money too. However, here is the dichotomy. We love their money and just as the Americans urge us to “do more” to curb extremism, we urge them to “do more” financially. This is where the hypocrisy comes in. For decades, Pakistan has been the recipient of development aid. This assistance has been used for various social sector initiatives in education, health and infrastructure, to mention a few arenas. While the complexity and extent of aid has varied due to a number of political reasons, there is not a single instance in Pakistan’s history when the country has not received some form of development assistance. In fact, in 2007, Pakistan became the sixth largest recipient of official aid in the world by receiving $ 2.2 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Through the years, development aid has been used to bridge the gap between government’s limited allocations for the social sector and the public social development needs. However, there have also been a lot of questions raised about this development assistance. Some critics term it a political ‘carrot and stick’ while others think of it as economic imperialism. On the other hand, if this assistance does not come through, Pakistan’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) according to some experts will not be met.

There is a need to examine whether development assistance is a facilitator or an impediment to Pakistan’s social development. Can we honestly declare that as a country, we would be able to meet our social sector demands should development assistance, mostly from the US, is curbed? Is it possible for Pakistan to invest in its social development without international development assistance?

The reason cited for the anti-Western (read anti-American) sentiment is that conditions are dictated and the development assistance comes with stringent guidelines. Another argument, particularly post-9/11, has been that the Americans have been responsible for the creation of the militant/jihadi mindset and they were responsible for funding the jihadi literature, etc. One finds it amusing that discussions on terrorism that all of us are confronted with always have the American/CIA angle but we forget to ask what has been the role of our own people as well as our “Muslim brothers”. If the Americans allegedly financed the jihadis, who trained them? The answer is very simple: our own people, our own state institutions. If jihadi literature was and is being taught to the Pakistani Taliban, who has created this curriculum? Who has the intellectual property rights on jihadi Islam? Perhaps, one’s Muslim brothers are not that brotherly after all.

It is a fact that given Pakistan’s financial challenges, we cannot meet our development challenges on our own. The reasons for this are many and date back to Pakistan’s creation. It is not appropriate to discuss these reasons here not just because of lack of space but for the fact that they are too well known. However, one has to accept that the development assistance that Pakistan receives from the Western aid agencies go a long way in providing some aspects of social services to our teeming public. We should be self-sufficient in this but the sad truth is that we are not. For instance, we should have had Rs 1.4 billion that was needed for the enhancement of Tarbela dam’s hydroelectric plant. We did not and instead the US provided this money. We should have had the Rs 1.8 million needed for educational reforms. We did not and instead the Australian government provided us the money. We should have had the $ 899 million for FATA reforms but we did not. Instead the US provided us the money.

We cannot take another country’s taxpayers’ money and then spit in their face, but unfortunately that is exactly our attitude towards foreign assistance. After almost 63 years, we should be footing our own social services bills. The fact that we cannot is our failing. If allegedly we have been “exploited under the guise of foreign assistance”, we are the only ones responsible for it. Why should another country look after our interests if we cannot look after our own? Pakistan has not been raped. It was consensual. Before finding solutions, it is important to understand what the problem is and most importantly who our friends are.

The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant. She can be reached at

Article reproduced by permission of DT

Daily Times

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