Lots of stuff going on in the world lately; not a lot of posting here. Chalk that up to crazy busy real life. I have been following the news, as I know you have, and one huge story is the declaration of martial law in Pakistan. It isn’t exactly a huge shock that a military dictator will do anything to hang on to power, and I know I shouldn’t be surprised that the response from the Bush administration has been a bit subdued. And I wouldn’t be the first to comment on the similarities between the two, er, regimes — using the specters of judicial activism and terrorism to trash opponents and stifle dissent. Hmmm, where have we heard that before?
Anyway, if the Bush administration is so upset with Musharraf, it seems the first thing to do would be to cut US aid to Pakistan. Money talks, right? And it turns out it also walks. Away. With no supervision.
After Pervez Musharraf declared martial law this weekend, Condoleezza Rice vowed to review U.S. assistance to Pakistan, one of the largest foreign recipients of American aid. Musharraf, of course, has been a crucial American ally since the start of the Afghanistan war in 2001, and the U.S. has rewarded him ever since with over $10 billion in civilian and (mostly) military largesse. But, perhaps unsure whether Musharraf’s days might in fact be numbered, Rice contended that the explosion of money to Islamabad over the past seven years was “not to Musharraf, but to a Pakistan you could argue was making significant strides on a number of fronts.”
In fact, however, a considerable amount of the money the U.S. gives to Pakistan is administered not through U.S. agencies or joint U.S.-Pakistani programs. Instead, the U.S. gives Musharraf’s government about $200 million annually and his military $100 million monthly in the form of direct cash transfers. Once that money leaves the U.S. Treasury, Musharraf can do with it whatever he wants. He needs only promise in a secret annual meeting that he’ll use it to invest in the Pakistani people. And whatever happens as the result of Rice’s review, few Pakistan watchers expect the cash transfers to end.
George W. Bush hands over hundreds of millions in cash to Musharraf — this after shipping billions in cash to Iraq (that was money that actually belonged to the Iraqi people, not that they got any say in how it was spent) — with no accounting and no accountability, and he wants to accuse the Democrats of fiscal irresponsibility? Not to mention, all that cash hasn’t prevented parts of Pakistan from becoming safe haven for al-Qaeda.
Once again, the US has propped up a dictator because he was our dictator, dammit. And now he’s done what dictators are known to do. Is it any wonder some people are seeing parallels with the Iran of 30 years ago?
The shah was America’s friend, just like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He was our staunch ally against the bogeyman of that time, the Soviet Union, just as Musharraf has been America’s partner in fighting al-Qaeda. The shah ignored America’s admonitions to clean up his undemocratic regime, just as Musharraf has. And as the shah’s troubles deepened, the United States hoped that moderate opposition leaders would keep the country safe from Muslim zealots, just as we are now hoping in Pakistan.
And yet the Iranian explosion came — a firestorm of rage that immolated any attempt at moderation or compromise. A similar process of upheaval has begun in Pakistan — with one terrifying difference: Pakistan has nuclear weapons.
If there is regime change in Pakistan, I doubt we’ll see new leadership that is friendly toward the US. The people of Pakistan know that we’ve been meddling in their affairs, propping up Musharraf without demanding real reforms or putting any strings on that cash we send his way. Cash that, by the way, rarely flows down to the Pakistani people:
Only about ten percent of the $10.58 billion since 9/11 has gone toward development aid and humanitarian assistance, according to the CSIS report — even after Pakistan suffered a devastating earthquake in October 2005. “Close to 90 percent goes to the military-led government,” [Rick] Barton says. “Some of it is directly into the military, and the other pieces go into the Musharraf government.”