Pakistan is a leading recipient of U.S. economic aid, receiving billions of dollars every year in both civilian and military support. However, the recent rocky patch between the two countries is pushing many members of Congress to reevaluate the assistance package.
The U.S. has been providing foreign assistance to Pakistan, to varying degrees, since the country was born in 1947. Aid started to climb dramatically after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Pakistan was deemed an ally in the battle against terrorism. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the U.S. has pumped roughly $20 billion into Pakistan since 2001.
Danny Cutherell, a policy analyst at the Center for Global Development, says recent incidents, like the finding of Osama bin Laden near a key military base in Pakistan, are causing many members of Congress to question whether the U.S. is being taken for a ride.
"When they found bin Laden hiding there, I think a lot of people are asking, 'Is it really possible the military could not have know that he was there?'" Cutherell says. "And also with these new allegations of the Pakistani military supporting the Haqqani network, I think the natural impulse there is to say, 'Don't give them any money if they're not working with us.'"
The magnitude of Congressional displeasure with Pakistan is seen in next year's proposed appropriations bills both in the Republican-led House, and the Democratic-run Senate. Cutherell says both proposals make economic and military assistance conditional.
"It says unless you can prove that the Pakistani government is essentially hunting down the Haqqani network, the Taliban, al-Qaida, unless you can certify that every year, you can't disburse any aid to Pakistan," he says. "So that includes both civilian aid and military aid."
One of Congress's targets is the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, better known as the "Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill." The bill promises $7.5 billion over the course of five years to help strengthen the fledgling civilian government and the people. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle complain that bill and that money have done little to build trust between the two countries. Military assistance is also in Congress's crosshairs.
"It is the biggest lever that we have, there's no question about it, it's the thing they value the most," says Tom Donnelly, a defense expert with the American Enterprise Institute. "Because Pakistan is an army in charge of a state rather than a state in charge of an army, the military is by far the most dominant organization in Pakistan."
The Obama administration is requesting more than $2 billion for Pakistan's counterterrorism efforts. The U.S. has also provided at least $2 billion more every year in grants since Sept. 11 to modernize Pakistan's military. Donnelly says hundreds of millions dollars more are tucked into different budgets for reimbursements and the like.
"Things like buying uniforms for and giving low-level equipment to the Pakistani armory and this Frontier Corps, but the Pakistanis charge a big premium just to allow us to do that," he says.
The U.S. already suspended $800 million because the Pakistanis expelled American military trainers following the bin Laden killing. Moeed Yusuf, a South Asia adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace, says Pakistan may not like cuts in foreign assistance, but those cuts are unlikely to force a change of behavior.
"Pakistan will probably dig its heels. Pakistan has this narrative of having gone through 10 years of sanctions in the '90s and still survived. Pakistan has the narrative of having a great friend in China," Yusuf says. "So my view is they will go and fetch and find whatever they can, but the last thing they will do is to change their calculus just because the aid has disappeared."
Yusuf says cutting off aid to Pakistan will be counterproductive, if anything. He says ultimately the U.S. and the rest of the world have an interest in a stable Pakistan, even if it takes a lot of patience.