Bickering on the Kerry-Lugar Bill : In early October 2009, the Obama administration moved to continue significant assistance to Pakistan but at the same time put it on a more transparent footing. The administration pushed the U.S. Congress for approval of the Kerry-Lugar bill, allocating $7.5 billion in assistance for Pakistan over the next five years. Essentially a nonmilitary aid package granted to Pakistan in view of its precarious economic condition owing to its preoccupations as a front-line allied state, this legislation came with stringent conditions on how to distribute and invest the money in the form of military and economic checks that have prompted considerable debate in Pakistan.
“¦most U.S. assistance over the past nine years has paid for night-vision goggles, F-16 fighter jets, unmanned surveillance planes and other tools that help the army battle the Taliban, but has done little for the ordinary Pakistanis well-being.
Backers of the restraining clauses inserted into the Kerry-Lugar bill point out that the funds are intended to help erase the widespread perception that the United States cares only about supporting Pakistan’s military. Indeed, reports indicate that most U.S. assistance over the past nine years has paid for night-vision goggles, F-16 fighter jets, unmanned surveillance planes and other tools that help the army battle the Taliban, but has done little for the ordinary Pakistanis’ well-being.
The Kerry-Lugar legislation has divided the Pakistani leadership, with powerful groups in Islamabad trying to modify those clauses relating to the prevention of establishment interference in politics. The bill, for instance, calls for a free judiciary, opposes intervention of the army in politics and demands monitoring of foreign funds. But according to Javed Ashraf Qazi, Pakistan’s former education minister and one-time ISI chief, the corruption of the Pakistani elite is not the only reason why there is little to show for aid monies. Qazi says that when he was appointed education minister in 2004, after retiring from the military, he expected that U.S. assistance would help him raise standards. There was much to do: Pakistan’s public schools are in deplorable condition, with more than half of them lacking electricity, and teachers earn as little as $50 a month.
Qazi told Griff Witte in the 24 August Washington Post that he had soon discovered that the United States did not even coordinate its programs with the education ministry. Most of the money seemed to go to U.S. consultants, who would carry out a study for something or the other that Pakistan did not really need—at exorbitant hourly rates. One program was geared toward setting up democratic schools in Pakistan. “I was very curious to know what the hell is a ‘democratic school,’” Qazi says. Another program involved spending millions to send Pakistani teachers to Washington for months of training.
Pakistans government is rated among the most corrupt in the world, and the United States has a lengthy process for certifying the accountability of its partners. As a result, nearly a year after the bills passage, very little of the Kerry-Lugar money has hit the ground.
Qazi wonders why the United States had not just paid for training in Pakistan, which could have had many times the impact. Invited to Washington himself, Qazi said he finally lost his patience at a meeting in a State Department office once used by General George C. Marshall, architect of Europe’s reconstruction. “I said, ‘You do the opposite of what Marshall did. You don’t ask us what we want to do. You tell us what you want to do,’” he says.
The complaint is a familiar one in Pakistan. A recently announced plan to put solar panels on the roofs of the elite and private Beaconhouse school system throughout Pakistan has been widely derided as out of touch when many public schools lack even roofs. Pakistani analysts say a system that relies largely on American contractors to devise the plans and get the work done has yielded few results.
On the American end, the Kerry-Lugar civilian aid package is providing the first big test. Unlike in the past, this law requires the money to be routed directly through Pakistani agencies and institutions—instead of the usual routing through U.S. and allied consultants and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs)—and officials say the results will be far more visible. But already, there have been delays that could keep the money from making an impact anytime soon.
“We’re having trouble moving this money,” said Robert J. Wilson, the USAID mission director in Pakistan. “It’s not easy to change the approach.” Wilson says that transitioning away from the old system and toward the Pakistanis themselves poses its own set of challenges. Among other things, Pakistan’s government is rated among the most corrupt in the world, and the United States has a lengthy process for certifying the accountability of its partners. As a result, nearly a year after the bill’s passage, very little of the Kerry-Lugar money has hit the ground. When it does, Pakistani development officials worry that it will be spent without regard for the results or for the limitations in Pakistan’s capacity to absorb the funds.
The U.S. market remains closed to Pakistans most globally competitive industry, textiles. A “˜trade not aid model might win Pakistani hearts and minds, and cost the U.S. taxpayer less to boot.
In a June article, “A Formula to Fix America’s Pakistan Policy,” Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center in Washington, D.C., adds another perspective, arguing that much of the projected aid never reaches the shores of Pakistan. For instance, he points out that the 24-nation Friends of Democratic Pakistan promised $5.6 billion in April 2009 but has to date delivered just $725 million. Moreover, the amount of U.S. aid has been woefully inadequate to the job at hand: no more than $2 billion a year compared with the $30 billion spent annually in Afghanistan. Military equipment for the army to fight insurgents is still sparse and slow in coming. Pakistan needs helicopters, jamming devices and engineering equipment to build roads and bridges in the borderlands, as well as to provide better personal protection for its troops, Shuja Nawaz notes.