US-AIDed protest

There was a strong reaction against the suspension of US assistance from across the political spectrum. Did the reaction vary with the amount of assistance received by the reacting leaders’ sphere of formal governance and control? From the viewpoint of ordinary public, the two interesting comparisons would be the governments of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Promises and performance in these provinces are frequently compared and cited not only by analysts and commentators, but also by the two major contenders of the country’s premiership in the coming elections, Shehbaz Sharif and Imran Khan.

Responding to the Trump tweet on the New Year day, Khan thundered that fighting someone else’s war as ‘gun for hire’ has bred terror in Pakistan. “Unwarranted threats and deliberate attempts to humiliate and insult the Pakistani nation are a consequence of political crookedness and hypocrisy of our ruling elite that never hesitated to back-scratch Americans for their petty gains.” Worst of all, the ruling elite “played a pivotal role in developing the US rhetoric of threatening us”. Trump was also called “ignorant and ungrateful”.

On the same day, Shehbaz Sharif issued a statement: “The exaggerated comments being made in the national and international discourse regarding US aid to Pakistan are tantamount to rubbing salt into the wounds of Pakistanis suffering terrorism, poverty and backwardness.” It was time, he went on, “for Pakistan to politely and gratefully close the chapter on the US assistance.”

On the whole, US assistance has been diminishing anyway. However, the provincial differences are starkly visible even in the much smaller magnitudes of the inflows. The K-P budget documents, especially the White Paper, say it all. Regardless of the declining trend, Rs7 billion of assistance was budgeted by K-P for 2017-18. Security and police were the main claimants of this assistance. The amount doubled from Rs3.5 billion budgeted in 2016-17. In 2015-16, it was Rs1.4 billion and Rs3 billion in year 2014-15. It had increased from Rs1.3 billion in 2013-14 and Rs0.6 billion in 2012-13. Imran Khan, let’s not forget, was no less critical of Obama. In September, 2011, he had told The Guardian that the US assistance was a curse destroying Pakistan. “The aid to our puppet government from the US is destroying our country… We have to separate from the US.” One might have thought that the new government did not have time to think things out in its first budget. But the successive budgets continued with the US assistance, with the number of projects and programmes increasing to double digit. The rhetoric, as is obvious, had no effect on the K-P budget.

All this while, the US assistance to Punjab was ZERO. As this newspaper reported on May 17, 2011, Punjab’s chief minister announced that the province will no longer accept foreign aid in order to “safeguard the dignity of Pakistan”. According to him, Pakistan was subjected to drone attacks due to the aid it is getting. Two projects negotiated since 2010 and signed to receive $147 million and $76 million were cancelled. In November 2013, while Shehbaz again said no to the US aid, no matter how huge it is, till the complete halt of the drone strikes by Washington, the K-P government continued to enjoy the largesse while the PTI was on the roads blocking the Nato supply line. The Jamaat-e-Islami, a vociferous opponent of US policies, is a partner in the K-P government that has received the highest US assistance per capita.

Strange, it seems, are the ways of our politics.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2018.

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