Aid or Reparation?

aid-reparationAll along I have argued that an incompetent, corrupt democracy is better than a well disciplined dictatorship and the current debate on Kerry-Lugar bill just proves my point. Never in Pakistan’s history have we debated aid packages, foreign policy and our nation’s subservience to the super power like we do today. I want to commend politicians, journalists and the army generals for chiming in and making this debate vibrant.

I don’t for a minute question the democratic process of debate; what bothers me is the subtext.

I will not tell you that you should read S.1707 in entirety before making up your mind. But if you want to please click here to read Enhanced Partner with Pakistan Act 2009. I am sure you already know but in a nut-shell S. 1707 authorized $1.5 billion annually in non-military assistance to Pakistan from Fiscal Year 2010 through 2014. The bill also authorized “such sums” in annual military training and education, as well as financing funds for the same period. It is controversial because the bill is conditioned on a certification by the Secretary of State, under the direction of the President, that Pakistan is cooperating with the U.S. on certain nonproliferation objectives, in combating terrorism, and that Pakistan’s security forces are not materially interfering in its internal politics. This limitation would be subject to a national security interest waiver. The bill states that certain direct cash security-related assistance and non-assistance payments (reimbursements from the Defense Department) may only be provided or made to civilian authorities of a civilian government of Pakistan, but this limitation is also subject to a national interest waiver.

A point of contention has been a clause that requires transparency and accountability, including semi-annual monitoring reports on assistance provided under the bill, GAO oversight, and audits of assistance by the Inspector General of USAID and the Department of State.

Pakistan has received numerous aid packages in recent past (since 9/11) but this bill is symbolically different; instead of money flowing to Pakistan’s army it goes to civilian institutions. And, that is the major bone of contention.

But the opposition to this aid package has been simmering. As early as April of this year

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Gillani had done something historic by categorically declining to accept US aid with conditions that are not in Pakistan’s national interest.

And, the American position has been very clear as well; when President Barack Obama appealed to the Congress after taking office to pass the Kerry-Lugar bill he also warned that there will be no ‘blank’ checks for Pakistan. But he wasn’t sure what restrictions will be proposed by the House legislation. And, neither was Pakistan. And. now that the Kerry-Lugar bill has become an act and awaits President Obama’s signature Pakistan’s media is up in arms denouncing it as the worst aid package ever.

I am told that “we have done so much for the US and we deserve better.” I would agree- Pakistan has been an ally not only since 9/11 but our commitment goes back five decades when our leadership decided to side with capitalism instead of socialism. We have delivered not only terrorists who wanted to harm the US but also defeated Soviet Union in 1980s and opened the back door diplomacy channels with China in 1960s and 70s.

And, we have suffered consequences as well. If we are to speak with a sense of entitlement, should we not seek reparation instead of aid? If we are ready to accept aid, why should we resist audit and controls? Why is it a problem if America wants to engage with Pakistan’s civil society instead of Pakistan army?

There are several questions that need answers and our media pundits seem to be ignoring them and constructing public opinion out of thin air. A show in Pakistan’s leading TV channel showed people from all walks of life from several different cities; everyone opposed the bill. They did not show a single dissenting opinion. Is that fair and accurate reporting?

Here is part of an interview I recorded last week with Prof. Noam Chomsky on the Kerry Lugar bill. He says Pakistan should decide how to use it. And, the aid package should be viewed in the larger perspective of America’s regional interest. He also points out that $1.5 billion is not that large of an amount when you realize that the US spends that much annually on its Embassy in Iraq.

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