U.S. Aid to Pakistan: The Kerry-Lugar Bill
What is in the new aid package and why it is controversial
By Bryan Gibel
For years, Washington poured foreign aid into Pakistan,
giving billions to the country’s military dictatorship to fight the
Taliban and Al Qaeda, even though the government failed to provide essential
services to much of its population.
President Barack Obama changed that relationship in October 2009, when he signed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, better known as the Kerry-Lugar bill, which triples nonmilitary aid to the country for the next five years. The measure will allocate $7.5 billion to Pakistan from 2010 to 2014, investing in areas such as health care, education, social services, and humanitarian assistance.
A day after "The Lost Generation" aired, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referenced
the broadcast in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Pakistan.
The funding is part of a strategy to forge a new relationship with Pakistan to help combat extremism and anti-American sentiment by improving living conditions and promoting democracy, according to a White House statement.
But aid under previous plans sometimes failed to reach its intended recipients because of corruption, notably in spending on Pakistan’s public schools, which struggle to educate a population in which only about 40 percent of school-age children attend classes.
If the Obama administration’s new aid program is to have an impact in reducing extremism, it will first have to combat corruption and strong opposition to the political conditions the United States has attached.
Foreign Aid, Conditionality, and Bitter Opposition
A few days after the legislation was passed unanimously by Congress in September 2009 in a bipartisan initiative spearheaded by Congressman Howard Berman (D-California) and Senators John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), critics in Pakistan were already assailing conditions of the aid deal as an affront to Pakistan's sovereignty and foreign meddling in its internal affairs.
"This is less an assistance program than a treaty of surrender," wrote Ayaz Amir, an opposition political leader in Pakistan, in an editorial published in early October in The News, a Pakistani online newspaper.
"Kerry-Lugar triples civilian aid to Pakistan," Amir continued, "but on terms and conditions that amount to a ten-fold increase in national humiliation."
That same week, high-ranking Pakistani army officers issued a rare comment on diplomatic issues, expressing "serious concern" about conditions in the Kerry-Lugar bill that demanded greater oversight of the Pakistani military.
One of the conditions that has caused concern stipulates that Pakistan grant U.S. investigators “direct access to Pakistani nationals” believed to be associated with nuclear proliferation, a veiled reference to A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist who confessed to selling nuclear weapons secrets to North Korea, Libya, and Iran via the black market. Many in Pakistan view Khan as a national hero.
But the most controversial issue has been clauses in the bill specifying that military support will not be pre-established but determined year by year, based on the Pakistan Army’s effectiveness against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants operating inside Pakistan and the army's subordination to President Zardari’s civilian government. Given Pakistan’s long history of enmity and power shifts between civilian and military control, these conditions have put even more pressure on Zardari’s shaky coalition to keep Pakistan’s military in check.
In order to hold Pakistan accountable for these conditions, the secretary of state will submit detailed monitoring reports to Congress every six months, specifying such matters as how much control elected officials will have over military budgets and appointing senior officers.
Corruption, Failing Schools, and Missed Opportunities
In its war against Islamic extremism, the United States faces an uphill battle to win support from the Pakistani people. Fewer than four in ten Pakistanis think their government should cooperate with the United States in fighting terrorism, according to a recent poll by the International Republican Institute.
Many see Pakistan’s education system as the root to tackling extremism. But corruption
and inefficiency plague
public schools, which still educate the majority of
Between 2002 and 2008, the United States distributed more than $15 billion in overt foreign aid to Pakistan, of which more than $4.5 billion went to nonmilitary programs, according to a report prepared for the Congressional Research Service.
Nearly $700 million of that money went to support Pakistan’s education system, according to a report by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Despite having a small staff and a lot of employee turnover, former administrators from USAID told FRONTLINE/World they were careful to track how money was being spent when it was assigned to specific education projects.
"We were on the ground and trying to get out as much as we could to observe what was happening," said Randy Hatfield, who served as the director of USAID’s education office in Pakistan between 2006 and 2008.
"We would have monitoring teams come out and review projects and look into how the money was being spent and conduct audits. So, I think USAID has the controls in place to be able to see what is going on."
Pakistan’s former education minister Zobaida Jalal told FRONTLINE/World that millions of dollars of aid money that have been invested in education over the past three years have failed to produce any tangible results.
To date, there are some 20,000 shelterless schools throughout the country. When schools do have buildings, 60 percent have no electricity, and 40 percent have no drinking water.
And yet, a report on GlobalPost from July 2009 estimates that there are as many as 30,000 “ghost schools” in Pakistan that collect government checks for their operating costs, even though they have no students and only exist on paper.
Pakistan has the lowest school enrollment rate in all of South Asia, and ghost schools and corruption are undoubtedly factors contributing to the problem.
But even when children do attend public schools, experts in Pakistan worry that the curriculum fosters anti-Western sentiment and religious extremism.
“A great deal of the ideology that we think madrassas are producing is in fact being produced in state schools,” education scholar Rabina Saigel told FRONTLINE/World in Pakistan. “I say that it’s the biggest madrassa because it has the widest outreach. It reaches every town, village, and small hamlet.”
In interviews conducted in Pakistan, students told FRONTLINE/World that they learn in school that they are at war with India and Britain, and the West is their enemy because it kills Muslims and hopes to take their land.
Countering these problems is an explicit goal of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, as described in a strategy report published by the U.S. Department of State in December 2009.
According to that report, $1.5 billion of the total aid package will go toward increasing access to quality education and health services, areas known to be susceptible to extremist organizations.
Much of what is invested in education will go toward building, rehabilitating, and maintaining schools; training teachers and developing national accreditation standards; and funding scholarships and investments in higher education, according to USAID's Pakistan education program. (pdf)
But that is only if the money isn’t siphoned away through ghost schools and other forms of corruption.
The State Department has acknowledged the challenges it faces in Pakistan, and says it hopes to counter them by increasing U.S. government audits and oversight.
Measures will include increasing staff at the USAID in Pakistan and the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, and setting up field offices for U.S. inspectors, who will work closely with independent Pakistani accounting firms and public authorities to audit U.S. government funds.
But with 20 million Pakistani children lacking access to quality education, policy development experts say the United States will have a difficult time extending educational opportunities in Pakistan, even if it makes strides in limiting corruption.
"The choice of whether Pakistan is going to be a functional country is a choice that has to be made by Pakistanis," education activist Mosharraf Zaidi told FRONTLINE/World in an exclusive interview.
"It's important that Congress and the president and the administration have made this kind of a long-term commitment," he said, "but it is not going to make the difference between a functional and a dysfunctional Pakistan."