Of carrots and kashkols

US and UK should scrutinise why their aid falls into hands of local elites more readily than those in real need of it.

Syed Mohammad Ali May 08, 2014
The writer is a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University

Besides Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK are the largest and most persistent providers of bilateral aid to Pakistan. The fact that this foreign aid is used as a means to exert strategic leverage within our country is no secret either. Consider for instance the spike in foreign aid flows into Pakistan since the war on terror (WoT) was unleashed in our neighbourhood. This incoming aid has, however, been accompanied by all sorts of contestations.

On the one hand, Pakistan feels it has not been adequately remunerated for the toll it has experienced over the past decade due to its involvement in the WoT. Conversely, countries like the US and the UK feel that Pakistan needs to do more to deserve the aid it is being provided.

The US had already passed the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill in 2009 to provide $1.5 billion of non-military aid to Pakistan for a five-year period when Osama bin Laden was discovered residing in Abbottabad. This bill also contained provisions requiring Pakistan’s cooperation on a range of counterterrorism, non-proliferation and other governance-related issues before releasing the promised aid. Such measures were prompted by critique within the US that Pakistan was being rewarded despite its dubious role in supporting the US, and to also counter domestic resentment within Pakistan that US aid was strengthening the military’s grip on the country. While the US has been unable to provide the amount of aid it had promised, the US State Department has cited national security concerns to override compliance requirements and funnel aid to Pakistan, as and when it sees fit.

Given this scenario, the latest demand by British parliamentarians to cut UK’s aid to Pakistan, lest it help curb extremism, also needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. This recommendation was included in a House of Commons International Development Committee’s report on Department for International Development’s (DFID) performance, released just days before our prime minister’s visit to the UK.

Pakistan is supposed to receive £1.17bn from the UK between 2011 and 2015, which has made it one of the largest recipients of UK aid. British legislators have, however, recommended that aid spending in Pakistan be decreased and that this aid be channelled to other low-income countries. They have also recommended that British aid not be increased until Pakistani political leaders pay their fair share of taxes and increase tax collection to meet the development expenditures of their country. Such suggestions are valid, yet they were hardly given much acknowledgement during our prime minister’s visit with his British counterpart. Like the US, Britain has reaffirmed commitment to working with Pakistan in security, trade and development.

Despite the rhetoric of harnessing aid to achieve altruistic development goals, probably realpolitik needs, such as using Pakistan to help tackle the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan as foreign troops prepare to leave, will override the UK legislators’ concerns.

While it is encouraging to see US and British legislators taking a more proactive role concerning the effectiveness of their aid to Pakistan, they need to go beyond questioning the ability of their aid to counter extremism. Both US and UK legislators must look more closely at the broader impact of their aid on achieving its stated development goals. They should also ask why the economic conditionalities which accompany their aid often contradict aims such as poverty alleviation. It would also be relevant for them to scrutinise why their aid falls into the hands of local elites more readily than those in real need of it, so it can no longer be labelled another form of post-colonial patronage.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2014.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


eloquent | 8 years ago | Reply

very eloquent. We should nationalise our industries and not privatise them and sell them to the highest foreign bidder. Privatisation would only increase this issue of foreign 'aid'

Roger | 8 years ago | Reply

It is unilateral "AID". Which part of the word "AID" is not evident to the author? It is assistance. Please do refuse to accept it if you have so many questions about it in your mind. No aid, no questions, and no problems...

Was expecting some better output from a "post-doctoral fellow at McGill University."

And let us not even start talking about the "Aid" from your Very Dear Saudi Brothers...

Instead of making these imaginary arguments and castles in the air, develop your country so you are in a position to give aid to others, and not beg for it.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ

Most Read