Throwing good money after a bad cause

Throwing good money after a bad cause

This seems to be the reigning philosophy behind the unprecedented $7.5 billion (Rs35,250 crore) aid being offered by the US Congress to Pakistan over a five-year period under the so-called Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill named after Senator John Kerry, senator Richard Lugar and Congressman Howard Berman, the principal authors of the Bill.

Yet, the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (EPPA) of 2009, which triples non-military aid to Pakistan, is neither likely to enhance this unnatural partnership nor resolve the problems besetting the troubled state.

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Indications of the troubled future of the EPPA were evident in the turbulent passage of the Bill through the US Congress, the Pakistani parliament and the side-show of opposition put up by the Pakistani army. While US lawmakers felt that they were being extraordinarily generous and, according to one expert, the conditionalities of the legislation were “exceptionally lax by Capitol Hill standards", Pakistani lawmakers found provisions of the Bill insulting, humiliating and even challenging Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Perhaps the biggest, if briefest, challenge to the Bill came from the all-powerful Pakistani army, which was concerned that some of the provisions were specifically targeted at the military, such as being held accountable for “making concerted efforts to prevent Al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups from operating in the territory of Pakistan" and to “prevent the Taliban from using the territory of Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to launch attacks within Afghanistan".

In particular, the army was incensed that the Bill not only called for its non-interference in the “political or judicial process of Pakistan" but also called for the civilian political leadership to determine “the process of promotion for senior military leaders", something that is not practised in other democratic countries, including the US. Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Kiyani publicly disapproved of the Bill, prompting the authors of the Bill to issue a critical clarifying statement to placate the Pakistani military and civilian opposition.

While there was no doubt that the Bill will be approved by both the Pakistani civilian legislature and military (after all a $7.5 billion economic assistance package is not something that a state in crisis can afford to turn down), the civilian opposition does not auger well for improved relations, as was evident that the cold and even hostile reception that US secretary of state Hilary Clinton received on her recent visit to Pakistan.

Similarly, the Pakistani army’s shot across the bow was a gentle reminder not only to the civilian government in Islamabad but also the benefactors in Washington that it remains a key political actor even when it is ostensibly not in government, with the power to block even much-needed economic assistance.

Another reason why the EPPA might fail in its objectives despite the conditionalities is that Pakistan has had decades of experience working such conditionalities to its advantage. Perhaps the best example of this is the 1985 Pressler amendment. This amendment allowed Pakistan to continue receiving vital military aid—almost all of which was used to build up its conventional capability against India—which would not have otherwise been allowed under US law, on the condition that the US president could certify that Pakistan had not built a nuclear weapon.

Islamabad accepted this caveat and continued to receive state-of-the-art conventional military assistance even as it pursued its nuclear weapon programme covertly. By 1990, when the Soviet troops were evicted from Afghanistan and president George H.W. Bush could no longer certify that Pakistan did not possess the nuclear bomb, Pakistan had built up both a formidable conventional capability and a nuclear weapons arsenal. Yet, it successfully portrayed the cessation of military aid as a betrayal by Washington of a trusted ally.

Thus, the EPPA might also end up increasing mutual distrust and lead to charges of betrayal if the assistance was suspended or stopped on account of one of the conditionalities not being met.

Yet another reason for the likely failure of the EPPA is that it provides no incentive for Pakistan to try and move away from the generous economic assistance of $1.5 billion per year—which is nearly 10% of its annual gross domestic product—promised for the next five years and extendable for another five years. This generous assistance, the conditionalities notwithstanding, might move Pakistan into the assistance trap and make it more dependent on the US and, simultaneously, more resentful of this dependence.

Above all, the EPPA is based on the fundamentally flawed premise that conditional assistance can improve the political and economic lot of the recipient nation. However, in the absence of an alternative approach and the current centrality of Pakistan for US national security interests, Washington has no choice but to depend on the EPPA as the only option, even though it is throwing good money into a bad investment.

W. Pal Sidhu is vice-president of programmes at the EastWest Institute, New York. He writes on strategic affairs every fortnight. Your comments are welcome at