The politics of aid calculations

Published: March 26, 2019
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The writer is a PhD candidate and Director of South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney. He tweets @HNadim87

The writer is a PhD candidate and Director of South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney. He tweets @HNadim87

Every US President, since the 9/11 attacks, has towed the same line on Pakistan. ‘We have given Pakistan billions and billions of dollars’, has been repeated to the point of monotony.

This repetition, however, is no accident. It is straight out of the playbook of Goebbels: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually believe it.” Now that we are in the final phases of the Afghanistan war, let’s take a deeper look at this claim and see exactly how much Pakistan really received from the US since 9/11. Let us also look at how much Pakistan has given back to the US in aid.

But first we have to be aware of key terminologies that are used in the aid business that changes the way things are perceived. For instance, Americans continue to state $33.4 billion as the amount it gave to Pakistan since 2001. In reality this amount is not accurate at all.

Of the $33.4 billion, $14.6 billion is actually the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), which is technically Pakistan’s money that US is supposed to ‘reimburse’ to Pakistan. Only $18.8 billion is actually the US foreign assistance to Pakistan.

Even the $18.8 billion amount is not without its complications, because there is a difference in the amount ‘allocated’ and the amount that was actually ‘disbursed’ on ground. Of the ‘$18.8 billion ‘allocated’ by the US, the money actually disbursed on ground by any estimates was barely a half. One example of this is the widely celebrated aid package — the Kerry Lugar Berman (KLB) Act to Pakistan. While the KLB allocated $7.5 billion to Pakistan from 2010-2014, the amount disbursed according to the auditing reports of USAID was only $3.4 billion.

Moreover, of this $3.4 billion the overhead costs especially the hefty consulting fees of contractors and development consultants in Washington DC took away sizeable chunk of the dollar value. What actually was left for the people in Pakistan is barely ‘peanuts’. And of the peanuts that did come to Pakistan, it was plagued with local corruption and embezzlement.

Not just that but the US also promised to extend the KLB Act for five more years from 2014-2019. In reality the aid under the KLB Act discontinued after only three years, let alone being extended to another five.

This is because the US government got what it wanted out of the KLB aid package, which was essentially, enhancing its covert operations inside Pakistan, buying political mileage in the country, and trying to re-engineer the society as it saw fit to the American strategic needs of the time.

Joseph Nye Jr at Harvard calls this ‘attraction of aid’ that yields more power than the actual aid to achieve strategic foreign policy interests in developing countries. This ‘Smart Power’ as it came to be known was the core foreign policy strategy of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Pakistan.

This politicisation of aid by the US State Department is one of the key failures identified by the USAID in its annual report on Pakistan. The USAID attributed ‘short-term political goals’ of the US State Department over long-term development goals as the failure of achieving development goals in Pakistan.

So when the US complains about giving Pakistan billions of dollars without a return, the truth is that Pakistan barely received even the money that was promised to it. In fact, if we flesh out deeper details, Pakistan actually subsidised the US war effort in Afghanistan saving trillions of dollars to the US exchequer that can be accounted as Pakistan’s aid to the US. This, however, is a side of the story that Pakistan never really developed and amplified it into the national narrative. A simple data crunching would actually explain it all.

For instance, the cost of putting a single US soldier on ground in Afghanistan today stands at $1.5 million dollar, according to the US Department of Defence auditing report. This means if America was to run the Afghan war on its own, it would need a minimum of 100,000 soldiers — a cost that currently Pakistan is incurring. This would come at a staggering cost of $1500 billion a year. Multiply that by 17 years and we have a grand total of $25,500 billion or roughly 25 trillion dollars. Now compare that to $10,000 to $15,000 a year that is required to put a Pakistani soldier on ground to fight the war on terror.

If we go by the calculations, and let us also include the ‘allocated’ funds not the actual disbursed money, Pakistan has received a grand total of only $33.4 billion since 2001 that the US has created so much fuss over. For that $33.4 billion, Pakistan provided a service of 25 trillion dollars to the US war effort in Afghanistan saving trillions of dollars of American taxpayers’ money.

The numbers don’t lie. It is not Pakistan, but the US that has actually received trillions of dollars of aid from Pakistan in the form of direct savings to its exchequer. Despite all of this, the US placed sanctions on Pakistan and continues to withhold a few million dollars of Pakistan’s reimbursements for ‘Not doing Enough’ on the war on terror.

The problem is not the US alone. It did what served its strategic interests and discourse. The problem is with Pakistan that not only fought an entire war without a story but without looking at the basic data to counter the US propaganda on aid.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2019.

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