Why the U.S. needs to invest in Pakistan

Nancy Birdsall May 12, 2011
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Why the U.S. needs to invest in Pakistan

Nancy Birdsall May 12, 2011
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Kai Ryssdal: The former chief of Pakistani intelligence weighed in on the Osama bin Laden question today. He — like many of his countrymen — thinks the United States was obliged to let Pakistan know about bin Laden’s whereabouts before anything happened.

The raid’s just the most recent source of tension between the two countries, and the possibility that certain parts of the Pakistani military or intelligence service knew bin Laden was staying there and let him stay has Congress questioning the billions in aid Pakistan gets every year. Commentator Nancy Birdsall says lawmakers are totally missing the point.


Nancy Birdsall: The United States needs a diversified portfolio of both short- and long-term investments in Pakistan. Washington needs the cooperation of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies right now, so it spends billions reimbursing Pakistan’s army for war costs.

But Americans are also concerned about Pakistan’s long-term stability — and with good reason. Pakistan will soon be the world’s fourth most populous nation, with nuclear weapons and 100 million young people with few jobs but plenty of opportunities for radicalization.

The United States should try to give these young people hope for the future as an investment in our own security.

The $1.5 billion in economic aid budgeted for Pakistan this year is less than what the Pentagon spends in one week in Afghanistan. If aid now reduces the risk of military engagement later, just imagine how much that $1.5 billion is saving us.

Of course, spending money without impact is no good for anyone. That’s why we should support Pakistani programs that have the best chance of educating kids, creating jobs, and strengthening democratic institutions. The point is not to win hearts and minds. It is to help create opportunities so that Pakistan can become a more stable and prosperous place.

And it’s not only about aid. During a recent visit to Pakistan, Pakistanis told me that even more than aid, they want trade. Lowering tariffs on Pakistani exports would not cost U.S. jobs — we already import our shoes and clothes from elsewhere — but it could create jobs and hope for unemployed youth in Pakistan’s teeming cities.

Aid to Pakistan is not a bribe and it’s not charity. It’s a calculated, low-cost piece of the U.S. security portfolio. It took us more than a decade of persistent effort to finally track down Osama bin Laden. The U.S. should approach development in Pakistan with the same seriousness, patience and perseverance.


Ryssdal: Nancy Birdsall is the president of the Center for Global Development. Take second to send us your thoughts.

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