Poisonous in Pakistan

Should America stop providing aid to Pakistan?


    It's a mess, ain't it Sheriff?
    If it ain't it'll do till a mess gets here.
    Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

For years, we have poured billions of dollars into Pakistan, and the payoff is that two out of every three Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy. After the discovery that Osama bin Laden had been living there for years, the feeling in America is: Right back atcha.

Some marriages can't be saved, and this looks like one of them. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government has treated Pakistan as an indispensable asset while leaning on its rulers to do our bidding. They have taken the money and, often as not, sabotaged our interests. The Obama administration, however, resists all calls to end or curtail our aid.

Today, the war in Afghanistan drags on, al-Qaida has a large presence in Pakistan, and elements of the government are obviously working with our worst enemies. When we went after bin Laden, we didn't notify the Pakistanis in advance, figuring they would help him get away. The other day, Pakistani troops fired on NATO helicopters that strayed over the Afghan border.

Writing in The New Yorker, Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, notes that Pakistan "is one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and a covert sponsor of terrorism. Politically and economically, it verges on being a failed state." Whatever you can say about our policy, you can't say it's working.

The fault lies as much with us as with them. For nearly 10 years, the U.S. has been waging war next door. Lately it has also been waging war inside Pakistan with unmanned drones that are used to kill jihadists but sometimes slaughter innocents. How many Pakistani troops in Mexico, or errant Pakistani bombs exploding in California, would it take before Americans got fed up?

Our martial activities in South Asia do not breed happy feelings in Pakistan. On the contrary, they provoke suspicion, resentment and rage in the populace, to the benefit of militants.

Not only that, but our money usually gets used for bad purposes. Wright says the army and the intelligence service "created and nurtured the very groups—such as the Taliban—that have turned against the Pakistani state. And the money used to fund these radical organizations came largely from American taxpayers."

So maybe American taxpayers should do something less harmful with their money, like place it in a box, wrap it up with a big red bow and set it on fire. The United States has an interest in the direction taken by Pakistan. But we have a better chance of good results if we pull back than if we remain actively engaged, locked in endless conflict with a government whose goals are at odds with our own.

One big reason for our involvement with the Pakistani government is the Afghanistan war. Without its cooperation, the U.S. military would have trouble supplying its troops and going after Taliban allies in Pakistan. But we wouldn't need to supply troops if we acknowledged the futility of persisting in Afghanistan.

If our purpose is to wipe out enemies and create friends, we're going about it exactly the wrong way. The longer we stay, and the more troops we deploy, the more animosity we create, and the less secure we are.

The dangers we foment are not just on the other side of the planet. After a Pakistani-American man tried to detonate a bomb in Times Square last year, he told police he was motivated by anger over American drone attacks.

It's often argued that the U.S. has to provide aid to keep the country's nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of radicals. But Pakistan's rulers already have ample incentive to secure their stockpile—if only to keep it from being seized by the U.S. or India.

A more plausible danger is that Islamist extremists will gain access to the nukes by gaining power in Islamabad. But our activities in the region only magnify that risk. We're the irritant they need to flourish.

During the war on terror, Washington has spent great sums to bolster a regime that is corrupt, duplicitous and often hostile. Yet U.S. officials, gazing on the fruits of our Pakistan policy, warn that any sharp change will lead to disaster. Disaster is what we've already got.


NEXT: Getting Milked

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  1. How about not providing aid to any country, how about not trying to stick ones nose in every nook and cranny all over the world.

    When trade goods cross border, then tanks will not have to anymore.

    1. “When trade goods cross border, then tanks will not have to anymore.”

      That is one of the great examples of wishful thinking ever. If it were even remotely true, there would never have been a First World War.

      1. We know what caused the Civil War. Does anyone have a definitive answer as to what caused WWI except a bunch of “royal” cousins wanting to get up in each other’s face?

        1. As much as anything German paranoia. The Germans convinced themselves that they were surrounded by enemies and doomed to loose a war and be reduced to a second rate power if they didn’t act when they did. That combined with an incredible misunderstanding between Germany and Austria. The Austrians thought they were just engaging in a regional war with Serbia. They had no idea the Germans planned to drag them into a larger war.

        2. Kaiser Wilhelm was a rank amateur, yet thought that since he was selected as Kaiser by God, his decisions were necessarily infallible. Therefore he had no need to think carefully or consult more experienced diplomats. It’s not that the diplomats were smarter so much as that they were more predictable, and other countries’ similarly experienced and predictable diplomats could at least keep Europe from doing stupid things, such as the naval arms race and the Balkans pile of kindling.

          Things would ave gone to pieces sooner or later, but not in the bullheaded way they did. I am convinced WW I was the Kaiser’s war more than anything else.

        3. Here is the real story on WWI.


      2. Thought I remembered that cross border trade between France and Germany, pre WWI, (really, really pre-WW1, since NotSure‘s quote’s from Bastiat) was a tiny percentage of both countries economies. Certainly nothing like the percentages now. In any event, the threat of losing significant trade is another thing to stay a nation’s decision to go to war, even if it’s not sufficient by itself to stop one.

  2. Until we get out of Afghanistan, we are not stopping aid to Pakistan. Pakistan controls all of the supply routs.

    “It’s often argued that the U.S. has to provide aid to keep the country’s nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of radicals. But Pakistan’s rulers already have ample incentive to secure their stockpile?if only to keep it from being seized by the U.S. or India.”

    WTF? Just how exactly would we do this? And further by the time we figured out the things are unsecured it will be too late.

    1. Sounds like a plan to me!

  3. I think economist Peter Bauer explained pretty succintly why foreign aid is a bad idea. It doesn’t help those that it intends to help, and it ends up hurting those that provide it.

    Ron Paul shamelessly steals from Bauer, but who can blame him. They’re both right.

    1. Aid has been a complete disaster. But at this point I would describe our “aid” to Pakistan as more protection money than aid.

      1. It’s a straight up bribe.

        “Hey Peter, can I go through your house so I can break into Annie’s house?”

        “Sure, give me a couple of billion, & we’re set!”

      2. Well said, John.

  4. I don’t think that’s Steve Chapman in that photo. Not that I’m complaining.

    1. My above was in reference to a photo of a pretty young woman, which was in ad space. I thought it was a misplaced photo for the article, since there was no accompanying ad.

  5. I think this is an unintended consequence of democracy in the Middle East. When the Palestinians were allowed to sip from the great cup of democracy, they elected Hamas.

    The Pakistani people will one day elect a leader who’s platform will be “I’m going to destroy America and Israel.” I honestly believe this and I don’t think there’s any way around this. Allowing them to have nukes and US money is going to look mighty silly down the road.

    I agree with John – we need to get out of Afghanistan first, then pull aid.

  6. I think the US needs to stop sending aid to everyone and start minding its own business.

  7. It’s a nice thought, but it’ll never happen.

  8. Let’s end all foreign aid from DC.

  9. “When the Palestinians were allowed to sip from the great cup of democracy…”
    Are we now the gate keepers of democracy? Maybe if we had recognized Hamas as legitimate we could have allowed them to hang themselves. Maybe if we allowed a little more democracy they might have made a better choice the second time. Do we allow peoples to make shitty decisions and then correctthemselves? Or do we bomb them after the firts one?

  10. Eh, the payoff for the aid was supposedly not actually getting into a war with Pakistan when we invaded their country to catch Bin Laden.

    If the choice is truly between giving them aid, fighting them in a shooting war, and not going after Bin Laden, then the aid may well have been the least worst option to most Americans.

    1. Cf. this Guardian article which quotes (unnamed, naturally) US and Pakistani sources saying that ten years ago, and renewed since, the Pakistanis agreed to let the USA unilaterally raid them to get Bin Laden (but that they would protest publicly) in exchange for the aid.

  11. We need to leave Afghanistan while building a credible deterrent to the jihadists using the Paki nukes on the US. Right now if you read the jihadist websites they believe that the US will not counter strike against truck-bomb nukes in our cities because we will affectively nuke neighboring countries in the process. Bring back the neutron bomb, leave Afghanistan, and then cut off Pakistan.

  12. “For years, we have poured billions of dollars into Pakistan, and the payoff is that two out of every three Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy.”

    Just to be clear, it’s the war in Afghanistan that probably makes us unpopular. Giving money to a regime that isn’t popular with everyone might be a contributing factor, but bombing positions within Pakistan’s borders, and fighting a war next door is probably a much bigger contributing factor.

    “The fault lies as much with us as with them.”

    You’re might be right about that–if you mean our weird expectations are to blame.

    And, yes, trying to make inroads through foreign aid with a nuclear Pakistan, which is probably high on the list of potential nuclear proliferators? And spinning it as if public opinion should be our main objective–in a nuclear Pakistan? Is a weird way to look at it.

    If making the Pakistani people love us is more important than what we’re doing in Afghanistan, then we should pull out of Afghanistan. If we’re not pulling out of Afghanistan, then the more nuclear Pakistan hates us, the more we should try to buy influence with the people who control the nukes.

    Why would no influence with a nuclear Pakistan be better than whatever little influence we can buy?

    1. “Why would no influence with a nuclear Pakistan be better than whatever little influence we can buy?”

      Because we should never do anything to support the bad people–not even if it’s in America’s security interest to do so? Because we’re the bestest, most sweetest country in the whole wide world?

      Hello, Pollyanna!

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