Pakistan Gets Billions, But What About Scrutiny?

The Pakistani government must be happy now, as they are able to get billions of dollars in aid, both from the United States and the international community of donors. The US Senate approved the Kerry-Lugar bill that will allow the disbursement of $7.5 billion dollars in civilian aid over the course of five years. The aid roughly translates to $1.5 billion a year.

The Zardari government, as expected, has welcomed this aid, though they are not satisfied with just $7.5 billion; they want billions more and are expecting another aid package from the US. Additionally, they are also looking to their 'friends' in the "Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP)," a group created in September 2008 to help the nascent Pakistani democratic government to tackle extremist elements. President Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown participated in a recent meeting of the group on September 24th. Zardari was also in attendance.

The Brown government has pledged ₤50 million in assistance to Pakistan. Other members of the group have also pledged some help in this regard. Major donors to the FoDP include the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, Japan and the Asian Development Bank. They initially pledged $5.1 billion in aid during a conference in Tokyo and the recent pledges represent a reassurance from the donors that they are eager to bring Pakistan out of its financial crisis.

But, do they need to do this while their own economies are suffering badly? This is a valid question being asked by Americans, as their country is donating the largest chunk of money to Pakistan. Critics also cite the incompetent governance and widespread corruption in Pakistan, which includes charges of financial embezzlement against Zardari (he was known as "Mr. 10%," for requesting that amount as a commission on every deal). Nawaz Sharif, another popular leader of Pakistan and now the main opposition leader, was also accused of corruption during his two-time premiership.

A recent report by Transparency International has raised serious questions about the competency of Pakistani government. While financial embezzlement is not a new thing in Pakistan, and the Pakistani government would be ready to enjoy the great 'financial feast' offered by the US, American taxpayers might not be ready to accept this deal. Although there is news about tight scrutiny of the aid package, the US government needs to ensure that the aid goes to the right people and not to the corrupt government agencies or fake non-governmental organizations.

The case of Pakistan is a complex one and needs international attention. If the US wants to gain a positive feeling among common Pakistanis, it has to ensure direct aid to the masses instead of spending taxpayer money on corrupt government agencies. The importance of scrutiny and accountability has increased further as donor countries are facing deep recessions. The aid is good but needs to be spent thoughtfully on the right organizations. Only then can the US government achieve some of its strategic goals in the region.