Editorial: Biden’s ‘package’ and our response
The bill that seeks to triple American aid to Pakistan, to make it $1.5 billion annually, is likely to become law after it is passed by the US Senate. The incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry, said on Tuesday that he would push it “because Pakistan has a huge economic crisis. If anything winds up being one of the triggers for chaos in the country, it’s going to be the economic implosion, as much as anything else”.
The Pakistan aid bill that Senator Joseph Biden authored last year with Republican Senator Richard Lugar would give Pakistan non-military aid for five years, extendable for another five, making clear that the country’s real need was economic and not military. Mr Biden, who was recently in Pakistan and Afghanistan, will spearhead President Barack Obama’s foreign policy as a powerful vice president. The money will help improve schools, build clinics, drill wells and reform police services in Pakistan. Senator Obama too had signed the Pakistan bill before being elected as President of the United States.
Pakistan is in the grip of passions emphasising sovereignty and defiance but the logic of economic development has to dawn here sooner or later. There are two possible strands to the American “package”. The first is to be looked for in President-elect Obama’s statements in the past. The lowest point was when he thought he could allow attacks into Pakistan if Pakistan was unable to cope with Al Qaeda on its territory. He plans to reduce America’s troops in Iraq and bring more of them to Afghanistan to face up to Al Qaeda. However, after his visit to Afghanistan he has abstained from making categorical statements about attacking inside Pakistan.
The second strand is Mr Biden’s and that is the one more likely to be adopted by the realists in Washington. According to Pakistan’s leading economist Mr Shahid Javed Burki, Mr Biden has focused on the need “to economically stabilise the second largest Muslim country in the world”. The money will be spent in such a way as to take economic growth to the poorer segments of the population and poorer regions of the country. According to Burki: “Economic deprivation is a major reason for growing extremism in the Muslim world, and Pakistan is central to the problem of Islamic extremism, and Pakistan does not have resources of its own to get the country’s economy moving in the right direction”.
There will hopefully be little opposition in Pakistan to this approach to the problem of terrorism. In a moment of rage, most people tend to forget about the economy. They want radical changes of policy without making it clear how replacements for old dependencies can be found. It is known to everyone that the people and the industries in Pakistan are suffering because of the government’s inability to pay for power production. Pakistan has run from pillar to post asking for cash to bail out a clearly collapsing economy but has not found many donors even after going under an IMF programme for confidence-building.
It is easy to ordain in a fiery column that Pakistan should look for “other friends” but no one points out where to go to find someone willing to part with the kind of money America is willing to spend on Pakistan. The crux of the problem is our refusal to grasp the danger extremism and terrorism pose to us and the world. If the Biden-Lugar money is tainted in our minds because it will force us to “fight our own people”, let us not forget that the entire world including China supports America’s war against terrorism without the willingness to give us the money we need.
We will, of course, be brought under pressure on fighting terrorism and possibly on the AQ Khan issue, but that is not the problem we should worry about. We should start worrying about our ability to spend the money we get for development. The state is at the bottom of its capacity of service-delivery. The money we got during the Musharraf era — which gave us the biggest provincial development outlays in history — was not well spent. Education and health remained mired and, in the case of some projects, the funds had to be returned to the lending multilaterals
Even if the attainment of national honour is the priority, it can’t be realised without economic development at rates that give us the extra cash to spend on the army. Islamabad is being angrily reprimanded by the TV channels for decorating US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden “while Gaza burns”, but the fact is that Pakistan has to survive economically in order to have the capacity to face up to any challenges, including the one in Gaza. *