Say 'yes' to foreign aid!

If foreign aid can feed one hungry man or put one child to school, don't you think it is worth it?

Syed Saadat August 05, 2012
Colonialism has left an indelible mark on the psyche of the people of Indo-Pak subcontinent and maybe that is why anything that in some way seems anti-west scores well with the general public.

Almost all the dwellers of Indo-Pak subcontinent exhibit such a mindset in one form or the other. This attitude runs in policy making as well, after all, indigenous policy making cannot avoid such influences.

In 2003, Vajpayee's government showed the door to all donor countries except for six. To every decision of such kind, there are two aspects; one is the ‘explanation’ and the other is the ‘reason’. The explanation for this was that the aid from small donors carried high administration costs and the impact was minuscule; the reason was the criticism by the donors on the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims of Gujarat.

All that the donor countries do is hold a mirror up to the recipient country to let them see certain aspects going wrong with them and the latter finds it offensive because it feels it is being looked down upon because of its dependence on donor’s aid. Actually, though, it is being done because a certain anomaly exists in the system; and it should be fixed for the betterment of that very country.

Same is the case with Pakistan when a donor country, be it the US or any other, points issues like extremism and persecution on the basis of religion, which are no doubt prevalent in our ranks, we consider it a blow to our honour and instead of trying to mend the wound, we abruptly opt to throw away the mirror which reflects our flaws. The hardest hit by such attitude is the aid work done in this region by the western countries; it gets affected in all the wrong ways.

For Pakistan, foreign aid is an issue that has always carried a lot of baggage right from the days of the Afghan jihad. Donors want to have a greater say in policy making, and the recipients want a greater measure of sovereignty with no or very few strings attached to the relationship with the donor. In emotionally volatile societies like India or Pakistan, the masses always question the effectiveness, as well as the motive of foreign aid. The decision on foreign aid also always comes with the explanation being one and reason being absolutely another. There is a tendency to believe that foreign aid is laced with some ulterior motive or agenda to decapitate the nation in some form and way.

For instance the stance of the incumbent government of Pakistani Punjab to refuse all foreign aid has less to do with the resolve to minimise aid dependence and more to do with getting maximum political mileage from the anti-west sentiment prevalent in our populace.

Another example of a politician playing in the same gallery is Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan. The popular leader has claimed that he would reject all foreign aid if he comes to power.

Paradoxically, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, definitely a feather among many in the great Khan’s cap, is running on aid money from different sources and there is nothing wrong with this. The distribution of wealth and resources in this world, for one reason or the other, is not even neither among individuals, nor countries. Therefore, a bit of aid achieving a greater good is by no means evil.

India recently has said an arrogant ‘no’ to British aid and the sentiment among the British taxpayer has been that if there is a general lack of gratitude from the recipient country, then continuing aid is criminal. Things fell apart when India preferred French jet Rafale over Eurofighter typhoon in a $10 billion military deal. If the motive behind British aid was to get that deal, then it puts a huge question mark on the promise and commitment of the people of the developed world, to millennium development goals (MDGs) such as 'eradicating extreme poverty and hunger', 'promoting gender equality', 'achieving universal primary education' and 'reducing child mortality'.

The Indo-Pak region houses more than a third of the world’s poor population and still our politicians have the audacity to refuse aid meant to alleviate at least a bit of poverty.

It is pertinent to point to the US or UK tax payer as well as policymakers that failure to strike a billion dollar military deal with India or a failure to get route for NATO supply reopened by Pakistan does not lessen the miseries of the poor man. He still goes to the extent of self-immolation due to poverty and many still sleep with an empty stomach.

Aid is focused on health, education and food security of the poorest, and if any measure achieves that end goal, it should not be discontinued or discouraged. Any government saying no to foreign aid would be justified, if and when, it caters to the needs of every single human living within its jurisdiction and evidently that's not the case, neither for India nor for Pakistan.

Lastly, it seems that the real objective of aid is lost in this muddle of local and global politics. It doesn't matter how many statistics we put forth about the percentage of aid being very little as compared to the total spending of the government. The fact remains that if that foreign aid puts even a single child to school or gives one poor man on the verge of suicide, a hope to live, then it is worth it.

The analysis presented above might not be as popular as its counter argument - which terms foreign aid as a tool to bring the recipient to the status of servitude - but what is popular is not always correct.
Syed Saadat A civil servant and development practitioner. Syed Saadat is also a freelance columnist and blogs at
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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