Reverse aid

03 Oct 2017


“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars” — President Donald Trump

SOME years ago at a seminar on Pakistan’s foreign policy with a special focus on Pak-US relations, a senior journalist spoke about the US dynamics on Pakistan’s foreign policy. A straight shooter in the audience asked the journalist: “What has the US given Pakistan?” The journalist shrugged her shoulders and said: “Money, I suppose. Lots of it.” Of course, since most of such information is classified it doesn’t reach the end user. It was difficult for even the journalist to indicate how much aid has been given by the US to Pakistan or any developing country.

Aid often comes attached with conditions set by the donor. For instance, the developing country must abide by the pricing structure, the mode of payment for products bought and the period of repayment. Much is made of the fact that developed countries like the US provide financial and material aid to Third World countries. Sometimes they use their influence to regulate the economic, political and defence policies of countries receiving the aid; at times they even reduce them to vassals.

The notorious PL-480 food assistance programme came with stringent conditions, ostensibly imposed by the World Bank but in reality by Uncle Sam, to remove subsides that benefit the poor; it is but one instance of the arm-twisting used by the ‘donor’ countries.

Let us look at another kind of aid, this one provided by developing or under-developed countries to the developed ones. According to a former president of Pakistan, the cost of preparing a medical graduate in Pakistan is Rs 600,000 excluding the cost of schooling and pre-medical education. From this, it can be reasonably said that the cost of training a medical graduate including preschool, school and pre-medical education in Pakistan comes to at least 25m Pakistani rupees per doctor, which is equivalent to $1 million.

The Third World provides the West with highly skilled manpower.

Now let us assume that the number of highly qualified technocrats from the Third World including those from Pakistan employed in America, or in the service thereof, is 1m, a conservative estimate by any standard. A simple calculation will show that judging by the standards of Pakistan, where the cost of even a top-notch education is far lower than in the West, training a million skilled and qualified technocrats in the US would cost its exchequer a staggering $1,000 billion. (In any case, finding a million students to train as technocrats would be a challenge in the US given the enormous proportion of American high school and university students that drop out for socioeconomic and other reasons.)

The aid provided by Third World countries to the West thus comprises highly skilled and trained manpower which leaves the home country’s economic development in the lurch and several decades behind the developed world. On the other hand, that given by the advanced countries usually consists of military hardware and junk they no longer need.

The sale of military hardware is ensured through reckless and self-serving sales tactics usually carried out by creating regional tensions that provide the impetus for an entirely needless arms race based on the illogical reasoning that it would erase the bogey of regional hegemony. This is followed up by providing arms to both adversaries. No wonder then that the weapons industry is among the largest in the world.

In contrast, the aid provided by poor nations is entirely development oriented; it not only takes care of the host country’s current needs but also its future requirements by training its future generations to meet the ongoing needs of skilled manpower in the developed world.

Indeed, manpower training for the advanced world takes place in poor nations all around the globe. For instance, it is estimated that some 40,000 students take the ‘O’ and ‘A’ level examinations in the province of Sindh alone every year. To take a very conservative view, it can be reasonably assumed that all over Pakistan at least 100,000 boys and girls take these examinations conducted by Cambridge, Oxford and London universities.

Given an average examination fee of Rs7,000 per candidate which is payable in hard currency, the country sends the equivalent of Rs700m to the UK every year to prepare future professionals, of whom a large number will ultimately benefit the UK and other countries in the West.

The point is that poor countries offer far more in terms of quality than the aid flowing in the other direction. A brain drain for the Third World redounds to the benefit of the rich nations. Finally, to describe this situation, let me reference Winston Churchill’s words — albeit articulated somewhat differently and in a different context: Never before have some owed so much to so many!

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2017