Aid and the perils of pride
Following a horrendous surge in target killings across Karachi that led to over 60 dead in three days, the US Embassy made headlines by expressing it’s sadness over the news and offering to help the Sindh government tackle the issue. While calling for an end to violence and offering to help may appear to be fairly uncontroversial, for many, any statement about anything issued by the US embassy must be viewed with suspicion and mistrust.
Indeed a quick glance at the US statement quickly shows the evil designs and hidden conspiracies being hatched – the Embassy “call [s] on all parties to refrain from further violence and work towards a peaceful resolution of differences – which has to mean something evil, is being plotted!
Calling for peace, condoling with the victims and offering to help the government – potentially ending a vicious cycle of murders and violence that has killed hundreds – might be viewed by many as a normal thing embassies do, as our own President did after the horrific attack in Norway, but when the US is involved a double standard quickly forms. Indeed many have decried the US statement of concern as “foreign involvement” and some suggested that the US offer to help be rejected. This unfortunately would not be the first time aid by the US has been rejected, as the Punjab government canceled six agreements with the US for development in education, health and waste management to protest the operation that killed bin Laden. The central government too has been guilty in this regard, sending home US troops assigned to train their Pakistani counterparts also in protest of the bin Laden raid.
The practice of declining aid as a means to snub those offering it is both misguided and wrong and ultimately hurts no one but ourselves. Indeed this is the policy equivalent of a sick man deciding he wants to keep on being sick to teach the doctor a lesson – except in our case the people making the decision don’t face the terror faced by the residents of Qasba Colony daily or depend on the health and education projects proposed in the Punjab to provide their health and education. A more apt metaphor would be if a man with health insurance refused to take sick, uninsured children to a free clinic to show how angry he is. While foreign aid given by the US government might promote US interests and influence, it will heal the sick and feed the poor.
Some argue that this is an issue that transcends petty politics and is instead an issue of national pride and sovereignty – that our dependence on foreign aid makes us weak economically and that taking money from countries the vast majority of the public views unfavorably is an affront to the nation’s dignity and self-respect.
To me, our self-respect ought to be offended that we’re ranked 14 from the bottom in a list of the least-educated countries in the world, according to the Global Campaign for Education’s 2010 report on the worst places to be a school child. Our collective self-respect ought to be offended when Save the Children’s 2011 Mothers’ index ranks us 77 out of 79 less developed countries and it ought to be offended when residents of our largest city are compelled to carve “out holes through the walls they shared with their neighbors so that women and children could evacuate if the neighborhood was attacked” as too many have had to do in Qasba Colony.
While our increasing dependence on foreign aid is a major macroeconomic problem for our economy, that too is no reason to reject well-meaning assistance that is putting funds where funds are needed. Capital flight, corruption, inflation and power shortages threaten the economic wellbeing of every Pakistani as well – probably more directly and to a greater extent than a dependence on foreign aid – yet it seems jingoistic nationalism promotes US aid as the great evil threatening our country while remaining surprisingly mum on these evils. Perhaps as we celebrated our nation’s 64th birthday last weekend we can refocus and re-engage, shifting our scorn away from the possible ‘nefarious designs’ of others and towards our own role in our joint fate as Pakistanis.
There are multitudes of issues facing Pakistan, tough issues with no easy answers and no quick fixes. Ensuring justice for all, educating the next generation, empowering the downtrodden and ending corruption will not come easily or quickly. As these challenges loom in front of us, as a seemingly endless staircase to progress and prosperity, it would be foolish to deny offers of help because of our own narrow notions of pride. Pride provides few economic opportunities and addresses no macroeconomic issues and more importantly it won’t feed our hungry, heal our sick or educate our illiterate – for those, at least for now, we’re still going to need aid.
Faris Islam studied Political Science and History at Tufts University. He is based in Karachi, where he works in the development sector.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.