The consequences of Bin Laden’s death are multifold: It has implications for US national security interests, military and legal considerations for war-making and it will undoubtedly shape the future of bilateral relationships with countries in the Central Asian region as well. In particular, some urge the reconsideration of bilateral ties with Pakistan. Others, like Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) went even further and called for the end of the entire US foreign aid flow to Islamabad. Mr. Paul has always stood apart from his Republican colleagues in US Congress by his provocative suggestions and ideas that usually go against the tide. He is one of the few (if not the only) Republicans for example that oppose the “illegal and unconstitutional nation-building” in Afghanistan and the broader Middle East that no Congressional legislation has ever allowed. He is also the only Republican up to date who demands the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. This time however, he is not alone with his view on Pakistan, especially in times of US budgetary restrictions.
Indeed, the fact that Bin Laden was found on Pakistani soil, 40 miles from the capital city and just a couple minutes away from the country’s top military academy raises serious questions about the reliability of Islamabad as a “strategic partner” and an “ally in the war against terror”. If Pakistan’s intelligence service knew about the circumstances then it is fatally compromised; if it didn’t (or only part of the security establishment did) then it is simply and terribly incompetent. In the end it doesn’t really matter: Both scenarios question its utility as a partner.
Yet the United States provided $18.6 billion in foreign bilateral aid to Pakistan between 2002 and 2010. The Obama Administration requested a further $3 billion for 2012 in security and development-related assistance and more than $1 billion in continued reimbursements to the Pakistani military. This makes the country one of the top recipients of US financial and military support in the last decade.
Was it worth the money? Should the foreign aid be cut? The response to the first question is a “maybe” in the best case. The answer to the second one, however, is a definite “no”. Pakistan’s severe problems of poverty, contaminated water resources, energy scarcity and high illiteracy still remain. And so do US strategic interests since Pakistan has the potential to drag the entire region into conflict and misery. Instead of cutting aid, the solution should be its transformation. In 2009, Congress passed legislation that allowed for the provision of economic aid to boost the Pakistani private and civil sectors as opposed to the then existing exclus
ive military support. The US should continue on this track and make its aid conditional on political reforms. As Nancy Birdsall from the Center for Global Development points out rightfully, it was democratic transition and economic development that made Indonesia a dynamically emerging state that used to lag behind Pakistan a decade ago. Not surprisingly, few threats to American interests and American lives emanate from Indonesia today according to Birdsall.
Bin Laden was killed but his dreams were not. Congressman Paul is convinced that one of them was to engage the United States in an endless, demoralizing and devastating war that would make the US totally bankrupt. Bin Laden had done the same thing to the Soviets before. He then succeeded: 20 years later, catching him cost the United States $2 trillion, 5000 American lives and 40000 serious casualties. The federal debt – mainly a consequence of the ‘war against terror’- is now reaching unprecedented records. The similarity with the Soviet Union at the end of the 80s is terribly worrying. Instead of spending trillions of dollars on a bloody war trying to kill prominent terrorists, more money should be spent on eradicating the causes that fuel the expansion of their ideas: deprivation and poverty. Don’t let Bin Laden have the last laugh. Let’s spend less aid and spend it smartly.