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Aid is a process

February 07, 2019

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AID is not a ‘patched clothes, begging bowl’ phenomenon it is often made out to be, for governments have been giving and taking help and loans since times immemorial. It is a process triggered by a commonality of interests and threat perceptions. In 1538, Queen Elizabeth wrote to Ottoman Sultan Murad III seeking military aid against Spain’s Philip II.

Couched in an idiom designed to appeal to Muslim sentiments her letter — as available in Urdu translation — speaks of Spain’s ‘idol-worshipping’ king wanting to unite all of Europe’s non-believers with the help of Rome’s ‘icon-worshipping’ Pope. She admitted the sultan would not be able to deploy his entire fleet, but perhaps he could spare 60 to 70 ships to help her defend England. If her country were defeated, she feared, Spain and the Pope could turn on the Ottoman realm. The High Porte declined. Taking sides in Europe’s religious conflict would have created problems for the sultan, in whose domains Christians of all sects lived.

As a foreign policy tool, the aid phenomenon reached flabbergasting levels during the Cold War, with both Nato and the Warsaw Pact using aid as bait. For America, the immediate post-war issue was Europe. The Morge­nthau Plan — which sought to turn Germany into an agricultural country — was abandoned, because a European recovery was not possible without German reconstruction. Hence the Marshall Plan to make Western Europe stand on its feet. No European leader went to Washington with a begging bowl.

There were concerns larger than Europe. China had turned red, there were communist movements throughout the world, and anti-colonial national liberation wars vulnerable to communist penetration had rocked Afro-Asia. If, therefore, China and the USSR were to be ‘contained’ there would have to be a chain of military alliances on the arc round the communist world.

No European leader went to the US with a begging bowl.

In an Afro-Asia seething with anti-colonial sentiments, there was no way such utopian concepts as democracy and four freedoms, or such spine-chilling shibboleths as ‘people’s courts’ and Siberia, could recruit allies to the Western cause. What worked were jaw-dropping offers of economic and military aid.

This country fell in that arc, thanks to what are both a saleable asset and a painful liability — its geographical location. By virtue of being a member of the South East Asian Treaty Organisation and the Central Treaty Organisation, which had Turkey as a member, Pakistan became a link in the US-led chain of anti-communist alliances that began at the Arctic Circle to end Down Under.

America ploughed money and arms into Pakistan thrice because of geopolitical developments beyond this country’s ability to contrive — the ‘commie under every bush’ phenomenon; the Brezhnev folly in Afghanistan and the post-9/11 Bush ‘crusade’ in Pakistan’s western neighbour. Suddenly, F-16 became a household word here. In chronological order, neither the pre-Ayub leaders, nor Zia or Musharraf were seen on bended knees.

In the all-weather friendship case, the two sides bore through the Karakorum mountains to reach out to each other, though it would take China eight years to get its bearings right. In 1955, on the sideline of the first nonaligned conference in Bandung, Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Bogra sought a meeting with Zhou En-lai, his Chinese counterpart, and gave him the reasons why Pakistan had become America’s ‘most allied ally’.

China those days was keen to sort out borders with its neighbours to remove what it called ‘unequal treaties’ imposed by colonial powers. Beijing’s first priority was India. However, obsessed by a non-existent great-power status, India attacked across the McMahon line in 1962 and lost. Things became easy for Islamabad.

Unless a panicky government bungles, extensive diplomatic spadework and hard bargaining precede the public disclosure of aid accords. For instance, a secret paper addressed to the State De­­par­tment by the US embassy in Islam­abad, dated Feb 1, 1971, examines Pakistan’s internal situation and charts out an aid strategy which says among other things: “we will face three major aid choices: (1) how much we give; (2) where we give it; and (3) what type of programs and projects we support”. It devotes one entire paragraph to “military supply policy” (The American Papers, ­compiled by Roedad Khan).

Often tempers flare up. A US diplomat talked to a Pakistan ambassador “in a stern voice, with a furrowed forehead”, while another US diplomat threw a file on the table in front of president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and walked away, closing the door with a bang (Abida Hussain, Power Failure).

However, there are donees who bully don­ors. As Thomas L. Friedman wrote in 2004: “Mr Sharon has [...] Yasser Arafat under house arrest […] in Ramallah, and he has had George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office. Mr Sharon has Mr Arafat surrounded by tanks, and Mr Bush surrounded by Jewish and Christian pro-Israel lobbyists.”

Sometimes it is the donee who dictates the terms.

The writer is Dawn’s readers’ editor.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2019