Jun 19, 2008
Of almost 11 billion dollars doled out to Pakistan by the US in last six years, eight billion have gone in strengthening its military and only a fraction on education. A former US administration official said that Musharraf-centric foreign policy had made America unpopular among common citizens.
Brussels: US aid to Pakistan needs to put far greater emphasis on education and far less on the military than it has to date, a Brussels conference has been told.
Data recently provided to the US Congress indicates that of almost 11 billion dollars provided to Pakistan between 2002 and 2008, eight billion dollars went on military aid.
By contrast, only 100 million dollars were allocated to education during that period. Many analysts regard better education as one of the most pressing needs in Pakistan, a country where one-third of its 161 million inhabitants live in poverty.
Education way down the list
"The sector that probably should have received the highest priority was way down the list," said Karl Inderfurth, who served as US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs between 1997 and 2001.
Just 2.3% of Pakistan's gross domestic product is spent on education, the lowest level of any country in South Asia. Military spending, meanwhile, accounts for 3.5% of GDP.
The result of inadequate funding for education is that only about half of Pakistani adults can read and write, compared to 92% in Sri Lanka and 60% in India.
Inderfurth said the US policy of shoring up the presidency of Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and has been named by Washington as a valuable ally in its so-called war against terrorism, has damaged US standing among Pakistan's population.
He cited research by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, a barometer of international opinion, which found that 69% of Pakistanis have an unfavourable view of the US, while just 16% regard it favourably.
"The fact of the matter is that the US has been a major player (in Pakistan)," he added. "But right now, the US is a bit radioactive in Pakistan. The US is seen as being on the wrong side of democratic history. We're seen as having a Musharraf-only policy."
Inderfurth was speaking at a June 16 conference in Brussels. Organised by the European Policy Centre think-tank, the conference addressed relations between Pakistan and both the US and Europe.
Khalid Mahmood, a former ambassador of Pakistan to Oman and Poland, said that Washington's approach to his country has been "based on short-term American interests." He, too, argued that "military cooperation has been a hallmark of US policy towards Pakistan."
Although Pakistan has enjoyed robust economic growth in recent years, Mahmood described "under investment in education as one of the most alarming indicators" of the country's inequalities. A "predatory elite of less than one percent of the population has dominated the state" for decades, he added. This elite has only helped develop what he described as "a casino economy model."
"There has been a lot of development of the services sector and of high-class banking, not of micro-finance for the poor," he said. "Education, health, domestic savings, exports, human resources and agriculture have been neglected."
Mahmood severely criticised recent US air attacks on areas along the country's border with Afghanistan. Last week, 11 Pakistani soldiers were killed after US forces opened fire on a border post. While the authorities in Islamabad denounced that attack as "cowardly", Washington has expressed anger at Pakistani efforts to negotiate with militants in order to end violence on its side of the border.
According to Mahmood, further air strikes could "create more instability on the border" and are unlikely to have any positive effect in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The al-Qaeda leader is widely assumed to be hiding along the frontier, possibly on the Pakistani side.
At a turning point
Following elections that led to the formation of a new government in Pakistan earlier this year, Mahmood said it is vital that the European Union should increase its assistance to the country.
"Pakistan is at a turning point, and democracy is fragile," he said. "There is a lot in it for the EU. If Pakistan can be a success for democracy, then this will demonstrate to the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world and the 20 million Muslims in the EU that democracy works."
James Moran, a senior European Commission official dealing with relations with Asia, admitted: "Pakistan is a country that has not had as much attention here in Europe or indeed in Brussels as it should have had." But he noted that the bloc had tripled its aid to Pakistan in recent years.
Moran noted that the EU regarded the outcome of this year's election as a clear verdict in favour of democracy.
Yet, he said, some flaws in the political system meant that an EU mission which observed the poll was unable to categorise it as free and fair. Among the steps needed to redress these flaws, he argued, are the establishment of an independent judiciary, the appointment of an independent election commission, and steps to ensure that the counting of votes can be subject to greater scrutiny.