A couple of weeks ago, while working on a story that never really went anywhere, I interviewed several Pakistani lawyers and women’s rights activists. I wanted to know whether there was anything they wanted to see the United States do to protect or help women in areas of the country falling under Taliban sway. There were a range of suggestions, but most of them said they wanted to see some kind of conditionality attached to our non-military aid to Pakistan that would ensure some of it flows to grass-roots groups – including women’s ones -- rather than government corruption.
Last month, Pakistan warned the United States against any kind of aid conditionality. As the AFP reported on April 13, “Pakistan accused the United States and the West on Monday of generating ‘ill will’ and warned US Senator John Kerry that Washington should not attach conditions to a massive aid package.” And, of course, the United States, desperate to shore up the current government no matter how ineffectual it is, complied.
But given the sorry state of Pakistan’s leadership, and the fact that little American aid is likely to reach the people who really need it, Fatima Bhutto’s piece in The Daily Beast today is at least thought-provoking. Bhutto, the estranged niece of the late Benazir Bhutto, argues that aid to the Pakistani government is counterproductive. It’s a rather sweeping claim, but it does point out the absurdity of the current situation:
It’s phenomenally silly to give that kind of money to a president who, before becoming president, was facing corruption cases in Switzerland, Spain, and England. Zardari and his wife, the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, are estimated to have stolen upwards of $3 billion from the Pakistani Treasury—a figure Zardari doesn’t seem desperate to disprove, he placed his personal assets before becoming president at over $1 billion.
It’s also dangerous. No amount of money, especially in the hands of a famously corrupt government, is going to help Pakistan stave off terror, especially when said government seems more than willing to capitulate to the militants they’re supposed to be using that money to save the world from. Since 2001, Pakistan has been a country in decline. We suffer a suicide-bombing rate that surpasses Iraq's. The billions of dollars we have received have not made Pakistan safer, they haven't made our neighbors safer, and they've done nothing in the way of eradicating terror. Instead, we now have our own version of the Taliban busy blowing up trade routes and flogging young girls.
Of course, cutting off Pakistan would be crazy. But it also seems crazy that no one with any real power is even talking about attaching conditions to the billions the United States is pumping into that country, even as its rulers fiddle while it burns.