As Pakistan approaches the international community for massive assistance for the third time in six years, donors face difficult choices. Three disasters, starting with the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, then the 2008 financial crisis, and now the massive flooding, were not Pakistan’s fault. Nevertheless,
as violence and terrorism emanating from Pakistan increase, donors must ask if aid to Pakistan is improving international security.
According to aiddata.org, the international community (including international aid groups but excluding the United States) provided nearly $22 billion in international aid from 2004 through 2008 (nearly $2.5 billion in 2004, increasing to more than $7 billion in 2008). Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has, according to the Congressional Research Service, provided more than $18.5 billion in aid to Pakistan. Of this aid, more than $12.5 billion was military. Supposedly this aid to Pakistan is essential for counterterrorism.
But based on the numbers, it is difficult to argue that international aid to Pakistan is reducing terrorism. According to the National Counterterrorism Center’s World Incidents Tracking System, which monitors noncombatant casualties of terror attacks, there was an enormous jump in terror attacks by Pakistani perpetrators from 2004 through 2008. In 2004, 110 Pakistani noncombatants were killed in terror attacks. In 2008, nearly 900 were killed. Some of this can be explained by the civil war between the Pakistani Taliban and the government. Nonetheless, the recent spate of bombings in Pakistan, which have killed at least 75 members of Pakistan’s Shia minority, show that despite substantial security aid, the government remains unable to protect its citizens.
There also has been a jump in attacks by Pakistani perpetrators outside of Pakistan, including the 2006 and 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Combined, these two incidents claimed nearly 400 lives. Beyond the immediate carnage, these attacks increased the possibility of open war between the nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India. Further, a number of international terror plots, such as the 2006 airplanes plot and the recent Times Square car-bombing attempt, have been linked to Pakistan.
Pakistan has played important roles in counterterror efforts, particularly protecting NATO supply lines to Afghanistan and its own operations against the Pakistani Taliban, which have claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Pakistani troops since Sept. 11. However, despite these losses, Pakistan’s priority is not counterterrorism - it is India.
When India detonated a nuclear device in 1974, then-Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stated, “Even if we have to eat grass, we will make nuclear bombs.” Despite possessing the ultimate deterrent, Pakistan continues high levels of military spending in its impossible race for parity with larger and wealthier India. This has led to persistent fiscal deficits and low spending on social services. International aid is no substitute for sound domestic policies.
American military aid is re-purposed by the Pakistani military for its obsession with balancing India. More than $2.5 billion of this aid has been foreign military financing, which enables Pakistan to purchase U.S. military equipment. Many of the largest purchases (such as F-16s and Harpoon anti-ship missiles) have limited use in counterinsurgency. The largest single element of U.S. aid since Sept. 11, more than $8 billion, has been reimbursements to the Pakistani military for its operations in support of U.S. military operations. The program has been regulated poorly, according to the Government Accountability Office, and there is evidence that the Pakistanis “overbilled” the U.S. and used the funds to support their own objectives.
Pakistan also has supported terrorist groups to fight a proxy war against India in Kashmir while playing a double game supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan to counter India’s growing influence there. Some of Pakistan’s proxies have carried out attacks throughout India and have been linked to terrorism worldwide. Pakistan’s pro forma crackdowns on Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, the groups responsible for the deadliest attacks in India, indicate that it does not share the international community’s anti-terror objectives.
In the wake of the flooding, Pakistan’s need for aid is real - and so is the desire of American citizens to help the suffering Pakistani victims. Beyond the casualties, a large portion of the season’s harvest has been ruined, and Pakistan’s irrigation system has suffered substantial damage. Pakistan was already having difficulty feeding its fast-growing population, and its primary exports rely on cash crops. It will be several years before the damage can be repaired, which means Pakistan will suffer an extended period of potential food shortages and inflation, increasing instability in a nation already buffeted by crises.
Ultimately, the international community will provide necessary reconstruction funds. But that should not be a blank check. Donors must insist not only on strict accountability, but also on changes in Pakistan’s domestic expenditures. Pakistan’s attitude toward international aid, particularly U.S. military aid, has often been as a strict quid pro quo. It is time international donors drove a harder bargain.
V.S. Subrahmanian is the director and Aaron Mannes and Amy Sliva are researchers at the University of Maryland’s Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics.