The late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who served as a special assistant to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a group of journalists in Washington last year that he re-learned the meaning of “moral hazard” after meeting with Pakistani ministers on his first “official” swing through the country in 2009.
The Pakistani ministers had been reading up on the financial news from America; bail-out after bail-out of failing and failed institutions, brought back from the dead only because they were deemed “too big to fail.”
Pakistan, these officials reasoned, was way too big to fail. Pakistan had nuclear weapons, it was failing on almost every level, and those two facts, combined, entitled Pakistan to a massive bail-out. Holbrooke said that one minister he met with was literally rubbing his hands together in anticipation of counting all the loot that would almost certainly be coming his way.
Right he was. Officially, since 2007, the amount of US foreign aid to Pakistan has quadrupled (from roughly $750 million in 2007 to over $3 billion 2011). And that doesn’t count the military, intelligence and operational support that the US provides out of its “opaque” and “black” budgets. If you added it all up, the total amount of US aid to Pakistan would make your head spin.
All of this “aid” and money has bought us a thoroughly corrupt government; riddled with cronies, largely despised by its people and duplicitous at virtually every turn. In addition, according to every national opinion survey, the people of Pakistan view the United States of America with something approaching complete contempt. The only country they loathe more than the US is Israel.
Giving the Pakistani government more money because it is “too big to fail” is a doomed policy in every way except one: it allows us to believe (for the time being) that nuclear weapons will not fall into the hands of people who would like to detonate those weapons in Long Beach or Baltimore Harbor.
This belief will be true until it is no longer true. The day when it is no longer true will be the day that a gaggle of pundits assembles on TV to say: “how could this have happened?” Everyone will express shock at the turn of events. But this turn of events is inevitable. Pakistan’s government will fall. Whether it falls this year or next or in 2014, no one at the highest levels of the United States government doubts that Pakistan’s current government will fall. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.
We’ve been pursuing a “realistic” policy toward Pakistan for decades. Soon we inherit the wind. Or as Brookings analyst Stephen Cohen put it recently:
There is not going to be any good news from Pakistan for some time, if ever, because the fundamentals of the state are either failing or questionable. This applies to both the idea of Pakistan, the ideology of the state, the purpose of the state, and also to the coherence of the state itself. Pakistan has lost a lot of its “stateness,” that is the qualities that make a modern government function effectively. So there’s failure in Pakistan on all counts. I wouldn’t predict a comprehensive failure soon but clearly that’s the direction in which Pakistan is moving.
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