With Bin Laden’s death, foreign aid to Pakistan under the microscope

Now that Osama Bin Laden is dead, many are taking a hard look at the massive U.S. program of foreign aid to Pakistan – about $3 billion a year, half of that to pay them for helping us fight terrorism.

I hope they’ll take a hard look not just at what we’re getting for the money but why we give it.

What exactly are we trying do with what we call foreign aid?

We actually give very little, per capita and compared to most wealthy nations. And we seem to be giving it mostly for political reasons.

When Egypt erupted in popular protest against dictatorship, many Americans (including, apparently some members of Congress!) were surprised to learn that Egypt was the second or third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid — and that most of that “aid” went to buy military supplies.

The new (or renewed) scrutiny on aid to Pakistan — which is also right up there at the top of our list of beneficiaries — is largely prompted by the belief that the Pakistani government, allegedly our ally in the region, has been almost useless in the search for Bin Laden and the fight against Al Qaeda.

Others go farther, suggesting that some in the Pakistani government must have known of Bin Laden’s compound, located close to the capital city of Islamabad and a military base.

Early reports of the daring military operation that ended with the terrorist leader’s death say the U.S. did this without Pakistani assistance, and without informing the Pakistan government.

All this has, of course, caused many of our leaders and pundits to call for an end to giving Pakistan so much money since it is clearly not buying us much in the way of valuable assistance or advancing our foreign policy interests.

Given the geopolitical reality of Pakistan’s importance to our foreign policy interests in the region, I boldly predict no changes. We will go on — grudgingly perhaps — giving them money.

What would be more encouraging than doing this repeat dog-and-pony-show about our “complex” relationship with Pakistan — an entertaining show, yes, but usually signifying nothing — would be a more in-depth look at how we confuse foreign aid with foreign policy.

I’ve written about this before, regarding our how our aid to Egypt worked in support of dictatorship and also in how even the warm-and-fuzzy concept of “global health” is now being skewed to serve our political interests as part of the Obama Administration’s vague notion of “re-inventing foreign aid.”

Maybe it’s time for a better, less politically self-serving, definition of U.S. foreign aid.

Maybe foreign aid should mostly be about helping poor people in poor countries and leave the geopolitical stuff to other branches of government.

If you want to get a sense of where U.S. foreign aid goes — and how closely allied it is to our political interests as compared to the needs of poor countries — here’s a nifty little video from the folks at AidData:

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About Author

Editor Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom-at-humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.

  • Snow BunnyInfidel

    We’ve given almost 20billion to Pakistan in the last decade, and Obama requested another 3 billion last year.  After the Bin Laden fiasco, Pakistan (in punishment to the United States), cancelled the visas of more than 100 U.S. Special Ops trainers that were working with Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, and refused to issue visas for equipment techs, etc., so the US withheld 800 million in military AID.   (I’m just going to paraphrase here in the simplest terms)  Pakistans response(s)?  1st:  ‘we don’t need US aid to fight terror, we’re doing a great job, and our soldiers are gonna keep fighting’    2 days later:  ‘how dare the US cut aid? That was reimbursement money we already spent, and now we can’t pay our soldiers, so we’ll have to totally stop the war on terror’  —- finally  if USA doesn’t give us the money and do things OUR way we’ll just be friends with China instead.   Pakistan’s mentality is that of a teenaged thug with no common sense, selfish, violent, entitled.   They believe (and in a way are correct) that THEY are running the show.  We give them billions for access, but when we use it, they shut us out.  The people of Pakistan HATE the USA and the west, and their government does NOTHING to dissuade that notion.  They treat us like invaders, but we are paying the government for the privilege of being there and were under the impression that THEY also wanted the taliban gone.  

    The people of Pakistan are poverty stricken, all that money goes there, nothing changes for them.  Because the government and the people there are some of the most corrupt on the planet.  The ONLY real reason we give them money is because they have NUKES.  And they are stupid enough to use them.   They get Aid from Europe and everywhere else as well.  Where does the money go?  Because NOTHING has been done to help the citizens of Pakistan.  We are the abused spouse following the dictates of an abuser and a liar.

    The government of the united states almost ‘shut down’ recently almost shut down because they could not agree on 30billion in budget cuts.   I see several billion right here, another several billion to Egypt.  These countries are NOT our allies, they are sucking us like parasites, while encouraging hatred against the west to their people.  Egypt is going to Sharia law, the women are being horribly abused, and Christians are being persecuted, kidnapped, raped, murdered.  Pakistan is even worse.  Egypt at least still has 10% Christians, but Pakistan went from 20% population of Christian to 1.69% (Hindu from around 20% also to 0.76%) because of murder, intimidation, forced conversions, and the kidnapping of their young teenage girls who are then force married to muslims and their families never see them again.  WHY DO WE SUPPORT PEOPLE LIKE THAT?  We have hungry people in the United States, we have people dying from no healthcare and bad insurance.  We have HIV infected people on waiting lists for medicine.  Why are we flushing it down the toilet?