With Admiral Mullen and Richard Holbrooke meeting President Zardari as I write this article, initial reports quote the president telling the two Pakistan specialists from the Obama administration, “Pakistan needs unconditional support.” As President Zardari knows very well, there is no such thing as a blank checque or a free lunch. The dynamic duo are not in Islamabad to exchange niceties or eat those tasty sandwiches that the Presidency is famous for, but have been sent down to let the Pakistani government know what they need to do in order to qualify for the serious cash they’re asking for (1.5 billion dollars a year) under the Lugar-Biden Bill, and then some.
Apparently the Friends of Pakistan club has been told that Pakistan needs 50 billion dollars. Money is part of the equation, and the more important issue is how that money is spent. During the Musharraf years, Pakistan received 10 billion dollars, and even today we are having a tough time accounting for how or where all of it was spent. So when the Americans, and everyone else for that matter, are skeptical about handing serious cash over to the Pakistani government, I say “Good for you”!
To say that the Pakistani government is the only one with an uncanny ability to misuse and waste funds would be unfair. The IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the IFC, and the dozens of donor agencies sitting in Islamabad, all share the blame for throwing money at consultants, reports, presentations, and trainings which have impacted the lives of very few people in any tangible manner. Of course they have been brilliant for the “development” industry in Islamabad. Had the aid given to Pakistan over the years been used properly for the people it was intended for, this country and its social indicators would have been completely different. Aid is also a very funny thing. It implies that it is money which has been “given” to a country. This can be misleading. Aid can come in the shape of a grant, a loan and, of course, expertise. More often than not there are several conditions attached to every programme. For instance, if there is a grant to buy wheat from USAID, Pakistan can only buy wheat from the United States at a predetermined rate, and not from the international market where rates can be negotiated. This takes care of surplus production from US farmers. The wheat will only be shipped on US ships, insured by US companies, etc. If the DFID, which is the British equivalent of USAID, puts forth a “development” programme, then only British consultants will be used and they can subcontract to local consultants, etc. The gravy train starts right at the beginning. Joseph Stiglitz, a former World Bank chief economist and author of several excellent books, has gone through this entire process in several of his writings and narrates how he left the World Bank in disgust eventually.
Ultimately, there has to be oversight, transparency and the capability of institutions to absorb the kind of money we’re talking about here. If the Americans or the Friends of Pakistan decide to pump in cash and cash alone, it will be like giving a razor to a monkey (bandar ke haath mein ustara). Most of that money will be siphoned off at various stages by various players not limited to Pakistanis or the Pakistani State. Brokers, dealers, fixers, consultants, and “implementing” agencies – you name them – and they will be circling Islamabad like vultures around carrion. If the world wants to help Pakistan and Pakistanis, then they need to help strengthen our institutions, train our people, and enable us to roll back the years of bad governance, and incompetent administrators. Like the credit crisis, throwing money at the problem will not solve it. This week, at a high-level meeting on how to combat terrorism, it was announced that a new force will be established to counter terrorism, but it will be separate from the police force because the police is not “capable.” This 100,000 force will be a parallel entity with its separate structure, compensation, and training. Not only will this demoralise the cops but will ensure that the quality of the police is eroded even further. Is that smart? Why not upgrade the training, the weapons and the expertise of the police force? Why not strengthen an institution which has not seen an upgrade since 1947? I did some math on the back of a napkin and came to the conclusion that if Karachi’s police force was to be brought up to the standard of any First World force in terms of capability, it would cost 400 million dollars. This includes forensics labs, training, equipment, increased salaries, and insurance.
When it comes to hearts and minds, America and the Friends of Pakistan need to understand that winning the hearts and minds of those in Islamabad is not at stake here – they already have those. It’s about winning the hearts and minds of 170 million Pakistanis who are without education, healthcare, and, most importantly, hope. While everyone in and out of Pakistan is jockeying to get a piece of the action, the purse strings need to come with controls, audits and concrete proof of implementation. Without all of that, the Friends of Pakistan may as well give their money to AIG.
The writer lives in Karachi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org