Just days before President Barack Obama begins his India visit, the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue is underway in Washington DC. The talks would focus on the “strategic” relationship between the two countries, a euphemism for more aid money to Pakistan to fight extremists within its borders and help out the United States in Afghanistan. Even with almost no results to show for the billions it has extorted from the United States so far, the Pakistani delegation knows that it will be returning to Islamabad with its pockets full.
The constant flow of foreign aid into Pakistan is a disturbing situation for India, which fears that most of the money is being used against it, particularly in Kashmir. In spite of repeated attempts (rather feeble attempts) to convince the world of how Pakistan spends the “aid” money, the flow has not reduced but rather increased. In 2009, Brahma Chellany wrote in the Deccan Chronicle:
Between 1952 and 2008, Islamabad received over $73bn as foreign aid, according to Pakistan’s Economic Survey. But in the period since the Mumbai strikes, the amount of aid pledged or delivered to Pakistan has totalled a staggering $23.3bn. This figure excludes China’s unpublicized contributions but includes the IMF’s $7.6bn bailout package, released after the Mumbai attacks.
Just last week, Islamabad secured some $5.2bn in new aid at a donors conference — the first of its kind for Pakistan. At that conference, host Japan and America pledged $1bn each, while the EU promised $640 million, Saudi Arabia $700 million, and Iran and the UAE $300 million each.
And none of the recent events, including reports of David Headley’s admission of the ISI’s hand in the Mumbai attacks in 2008, nor a NATO official’s allegation of Osama bin Laden living comfortably in Pakistan can be expected to make any difference to what Pakistan gets. The Times of India in fact reported that the Obama Administration is lining up about $2 billion in new military aid to Pakistan. It is almost as if the country is being rewarded for being a nuisance. At the same time efforts are on to persuade India to purchase billions of dollars worth of military goods from the United States. Another round of the United States’ game of providing arms to both sides in a conflict.
But neither Pakistan nor the United States can be really blamed for looking out for their own interests. Playing the victim and savior, and asking for money for being both at the same time, is what Pakistan does best. Its political and military institutions should be commended for efficiently training consecutive generations to fool the world with the same spiel! Other countries could learn a thing or two from Pakistan about consistent foreign policy.
The real loser in this game is India. It does not know how to play the victim (to Pakistani terror or Western neglect) convincingly, nor does it have the guts to stand up and dictate its terms. India makes a few noises every time Pakistan receives aid, a lot gets written about, but nothing every comes off it. The status quo has continued for decades, and unless there is a serious change in attitude in India, there is little to claim that things might change any time in the near future.
During President Obama’s visit this November, India should make all efforts to persuade his administration to introduce strict accountability with any aid, humanitarian or otherwise, to Pakistan. The India lobby and the Indian American community in the United States need to play a larger role in convincing and bringing about a change in American policy toward Pakistan in terms of aid.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his part should stop being docile, and demand (politely, if that makes it easy for him) that America change its aid policy toward Pakistan. If India thinks that a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council could help it control Pakistan, it should lobby for that seat harder than ever before. A nod from the United States for its candidature can go really far. Of course, Pakistan would make bigger noises and attack a few places, but if India believes a UN route can make things change their way, some collateral damage has to be taken in stride.
India is undoubtedly the superior power in terms of economic and military standing but its negotiation skills leave a lot to be desired. In a diplomatic game, anything less than a master negotiator is useless. And if India can’t negotiate, it should fight. It is the time to fight.
This story first appeared on Foreign Policy Blogs Network, September 22, 2010.