Pakistan and questions over foreign aid

May 13, 2011

In the flurry of statements on the killing of Osama bin Laden, a remark from Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, spoke volumes about how U.S. foreign aid tends to be perceived by its recipients. It’s not enough.

“The United States spent much more money in Iraq than it did in Afghanistan,” Haqqani said in a television interview. “And then it spent much more in Afghanistan than it did in Pakistan. So were there cracks through which things fell through? Absolutely.”

That twisted logic suggests that if only Washington had given Pakistan a few billion more than the $20.7 billion it provided over the past decade, bin Laden, a man with a $27 million bounty on his head, would not have “fallen through the cracks.” Those cracks were wide enough to swallow bin Laden’s one-acre walled compound with a three-storey building in a garrison town near the Pakistani capital.

The mass murderer’s six-year stay in Abbottabad has prompted some members of Congress to demand the immediate suspension of aid to Pakistan, others to look for reductions. Deep cuts, however, are unlikely. The 140,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan rely on supplies landed at the Pakistani port of Karachi and trucked through the Khyber Pass to bases in Afghanistan.

As Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s bin Laden unit, puts it: “They (the Pakistanis) know we need them more than they need us. They also know that the Saudis and the Chinese would step in with money and aid if we backed out.”

Consequently, military and civilian aid is likely to continue flowing and the strained marriage of convenience between the U.S. and Pakistan will survive this latest spat. But giving billions of dollars to a country where, according to President Barack Obama, “we think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden” will probably rekindle a long-running debate over the how and why of foreign aid as a whole.

The United States is the world’s biggest donor of foreign aid, giving more than the runners-up, France and Germany, put together. Last year, Washington provided assistance in one form or another to 149 countries, according to the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of Congress. That’s almost four-fifths of all the countries on earth but the aid has not made the United States the world’s most popular country.

On the contrary. Why? There are a variety of reasons, including one that is not often mentioned in policy debates on aid. It has to do with human nature, according to Ken Adelman, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In a recent essay in Foreign Policy magazine, he wrote: “Giving someone a gift generates initial gratitude (often along with gripes about why it wasn’t bigger). The second time the gift generates less gratitude (and more such griping). By the third iteration, it has become an entitlement. The slightest decline engenders resentment.”

Perversely, in Pakistan and Egypt, two of the four countries that topped the list of U.S. aid recipients in 2010, the publics hold overwhelmingly unfavorable views of the United States, according to the annual global attitudes survey by the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based think tank.

For decades, Washington has seen foreign assistance as an essential instrument of foreign policy, meant in part to positively influence attitudes abroad. This works in some of the large variety of activities that come under the label foreign assistance – for example reducing poverty, widening access to health care and education, or promoting human rights. But even U.S. disaster relief, often prompt and efficient, does not always change attitudes, viz American emergency aid in the wake of last year’s devastating floods in Pakistan.

If foreign assistance does not buy gratitude, loyalty and cooperation, does it help to influence the decision-making of friendly governments? Not necessarily. Take the example of Israel, the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since its creation in 1948. Despite the aid, the government has continued building Jewish settlements on the West Bank contrary to U.S. wishes and contrary to international law.

So, is foreign assistance to 149 countries reflected in votes in support of U.S. positions at the United Nations (which has 192 members)? It is not. According to a study by the conservative Heritage Foundation, about 95 percent of U.N. member states that receive U.S. assistance voted against the United States in General Assembly votes between 2000 and 2008.

That helps explain why opinion polls consistently show that the majority of Americans are in favor of cutting foreign aid. The latest survey, in January by Gallup, showed 59 percent wanted reductions. Those results would probably look different if Americans had a clearer idea of how much of their tax money goes to helping foreign countries.

A series of studies shows that the public vastly overestimates the share of the budget that goes to foreign assistance – widespread perceptions put it at around 20 percent. In fact, in 2010, it was just 1.1 percent.  (You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Well, we do spend well over $1.2 trillion per year in support of current Israeli policy. That money is lees “aid” to other countries than it is an incentive to suppress criticism of Israel and support for various non-jewish palestinian organizations. The recipients, including Pakistan, all know this.

The wanton disregard of the interests of the American people is well known throughout the world. And as long as the USA is to be plundered, most of our “friends” want a cut too. Why should they be treated differently than Israel? Why indeed?

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

$1.2 TRILLION? How do you arrive at that figure?

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive

[…] Pakistan and questions over foreign aid (Reuters blog-Bernd Debusmann, May 13) Consequently, military and civilian aid is likely to continue flowing and the strained marriage of convenience between the U.S. and Pakistan will survive this latest spat. But giving billions of dollars to a country where, according to President Barack Obama, “we think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden” will probably rekindle a long-running debate over the how and why of foreign aid as a whole. […]

Posted by MFAN’s Daily News Clips • Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network | Report as abusive

Official figures show the total cost to US taxpayers of aid to Israel from inception (1949) until 1997 as $134,791,507,200–average figure comes out at $2,808,156,400 pa. For the year 2010 the US aid to Israel (military and economic) comes to $3.175 billion–that’s a long way short of $1.2 trillion. Israel does account for about 22& of total US aid, with Egypt next at about 11%

Posted by Ballybunnion | Report as abusive

If it ‘was just 1.1 percent’ then no one should miss it if it stops getting handed to them.

Posted by jim-dandy | Report as abusive

Hello, we need the money here for homeland security and building homeland infrastructure. With the states going bankrupt and the US in debt up to its ears, lets stop sending our hard earned money overseas. Why are we responsible to help these people? Help me with this one/

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive

The bulk of foreign aid is military related and is in essence welfare for our defense industry and bribes to the military in countries where the generals swing a lot of weight.

Posted by PCScipio | Report as abusive

It is the way the US spends its aid money that is the problem. Usually it is given to some corrupt leader who puts most of it into a Swiss bank account and he takes credit for whatever is spent on the people. The other common form of aid is weapons to a dictator who uses the weapons to suppress his people.

I have noticed that the Chinese give aid in the form of infrastructure. That is they actually go and build a hospital a school or a bridge. The people in the poor country actually get to see a result and remember who helped them.

Give a man money and it is forgotten the moment the money is spent. Save a mans child and he will remember till the day he dies.

Posted by Sinbad1 | Report as abusive

I think it will be blessing in disguise in the long run for Pakistan, if America stops the aid, leave Pakistan alone and do not interfere.
Terrorism inside Pakistan will die down, once Al Qaeda finds Pakistan Military dissociated from Americans
How can you not accede to the American orders and take billions from them at the same time.
Pakistan made the biggest mistake by offering basis to run logistics, recovery.
Terrorists killed thousands of civilians, and killed 5000 Pakistani soldiers and senior Pakistani military officers, and there is no respect and acknowledgement from America and those who do propaganda against Pakistan.
Any way, America and Pakistan relation is not based on respect for each other.
What kind of relationship is it that Pakistani Military fight the global war on terror, incur the heaviest loss of life, more than even Americans, and in return America rewards Pakistan’s arch rival with the nuclear technology. This is not a healthy relationship. It must end, or put on the reasonable track.
China has been Pakistan’s reliable friend all the way. I think Pakistan should dump America and develop special strategic relationship with China, because that is natural and based on the ground reality.
Pakistan has been America’s all weather friend since 1948, America has been dumping Pakistan, and now Pakistan should accept the hard reality, America is not its reliable friend, and change direction and start living with dignity and honor.

Posted by Bob_Andersen | Report as abusive

This is a very rude articel.Usa doesnt get popular because it so often gives money to promote its own interest.Giving aid gets you popular when its for something good. USA is NOT the biggest donor in the world. that schould be measured as procentage of bnp, and not as a sum of money. Any other way seems stupid.

Posted by nasalvarkha | Report as abusive

The U.S. should use their drones to maintain an irradication policy on opium fields in Pakistan and Afghansitan during routine fly-bys. This is likely to do more to curtail terrorism around the world than the current policy of indirectly financing these thugs.

Posted by SteveNR11 | Report as abusive

1.2 Trillion aid for Israel? Are you on Coke? Did your mommy just show you how to use the internet?

Sure Israel is the largest recipient of US aid and in my opinion they shouldn’t get a penny because it doesn’t benefit anyone in the US except Senator Lieberman and his contorted world, But you must be kidding.

The US has roughly 2.4 trillion to spend each year inline with the budget (we spend 1.4 trillion more than we make).

Posted by kc10man | Report as abusive

tractors not tanks.

If the US has to borrorw oney fro China to donate to the world, and if speclation believes that china would give after a US default. To have the indebted dislive you even more due to lack of funds. sounds win win to me

Posted by wondermut | Report as abusive

“China has been Pakistan’s reliable friend all the way. I think Pakistan should dump America and develop special strategic relationship with China, because that is natural and based on the ground reality.
Pakistan has been America’s all weather friend since 1948, America has been dumping Pakistan, and now Pakistan should accept the hard reality, America is not its reliable friend, and change direction and start living with dignity.”

Wise words from an inside man.

Absolutely Pakistan knows the US will only be in town for another year or two and then the old reality will set in. “That’s why they just shipped the US stealth helicopter that crashed in Binladen’s compound to Chengdu China”.

Posted by kc10man | Report as abusive

1. No such thing as communism – China is very very capitalist, even people are for sale.

2. Obama is not a threat to America – He is also not a threat to terrorism

3. Pakistan only cares about Pakistan – which is complex since nearly have of Pakistanis do not consider themselves Pakistanis. What Pakistan needs is a strong totalitarian government to reform the tribal system, democracy = cancer in Pakistan.

Posted by kc10man | Report as abusive

Michael Scheuer (former CIA UBL unit) logic is flawed. No wonder the CIA missed UBL on his watch. The Saudi’s give $1b to Pakistan every year since the Soviets in Afghanistan for 30 years to fund the sprawling Madrasas. They paid the Mush/and ISI 50mm to hide UBL in a “secure” military cantonment under Scheuer’s nose, just as Ghadaffi did for those Nukes that the Mush sent Libya. I know first hand that neither the Saudi’s nor the Chinese will step in and fund Pakistan should the US leave. Pakistan will simply default on its debts and split apart as Baluchistan springs free. Indeed, the Chinese expect USA aid to be diverted, used to repay the Chinese for their weapons systems and the power projects they undertake.. there is nothing free from the Chinese…

Posted by Bludde | Report as abusive

That’s why we’d be better off with President Chis Christie.

Posted by p__buc | Report as abusive

Well it all started with the U.K. splitting up Pakistan from India after the latter’s independence. So blame the strange ‘divide and conquer’ strategy of the British for half of today’s global conflicts.
Now, let us look forward to the future and apply the opposite strategy, which ‘unite in peace’ along the line of Gandhi’s non-violence ideology. It only works if you believe in it…

Posted by phanthanhgian | Report as abusive

Ist of all the fact is that almost half of $1.5 Billion that Pakistan gets is not aid, its reimbursement for the services Pakistan provides for NATO troops, like the use of its ports, providing security to NATO trucks and some other stuff.
That laves less than billion a year in aid, and keeping in mind Pakistan’s 180 million people the aid amounts to around $8.00 a person per year. I dont know why media keeps on bringing the aid issue up.
Pakistan’s per capita income is $1050 per year, what difference really $8.00 make ??

Posted by umarhadi | Report as abusive

Plausibly if we just gave the aid to these various countries, they would feel gratitude. However, (a) most of the aid comes with strings which allows the US to retain some control over it and (b) most of the aid is military which does the populace no good (indeed, may be propping up a regime despised by the populace).

However, you started talking about Pakistan specifically. The bin Laden incident may prove to be the bridge too far for the Pakistanis. Most of the Paki’s I’ve known have a very prickly sense of pride and I suspect that most of them realize that supporting the US’s GWOT has been bad news for Pakistan. They certainly have the capacity to stop American use of drones in their country and they are certainly in a position to tell us to get our war materiel into Afghanistan without going through Pakistan. The bad news for Pakistan is that much of their military equipment is American and they (as well as the Indians, and Iranians, and Lebanese, and …) know that the US is a very unreliable supplier unless you toe Washington’s line.

So it will be interesting to see how this plays out. The government has a weak hold on power, the parliament is pissed, and the populace is strongly anti-American. Things don’t look good.

Posted by majkmushrm | Report as abusive

I agree to Mr Bob_Andersen……. i doubt u are american? well kudoos and hats off to u for such open minded opinion….. we pakistanis have always been dumped by our US friends …… we have a lot of examples where a country serving american intersts dumped by americans when it needed help ….. dick said in his book” in the arena ” … “it pays to b enemy of america than to b a friend” here he qouted example of shah of iran who was american ally and what happend to him when he needed help . he wasnt welcomed in the US when exiled … he died in france i guess … pakistan faught war for US in afganistan .then america funded pakistan to create taliban(students of madrissas) to fight holy war… ussr disintegrated … .. and as usual US took a u turn and started to term taliban as terrorists …. mush was asked to tackle them which he did… and in return got suicidal attacks all over the country …its a long discussion.. well richard nixon was correct “it pays to be enemy of america” …and i forgot to mention … someone also mentioned that pakistan will be disintegrated .. maybe true but if pakistan is disintegrated then shockwave will travel to india which already is doin best to stop eastern states from fighting war of independance …these states will not be part of india if pakistan is disintegrated and this big bang will leave america without the only ally in the region to counter china …

Posted by arkaine | Report as abusive

After all the shoddy merchandise the Chinese have sold Americans the past 25 years, I think it would be fitting if we could sell them Pakistan. It would certainly be a good deal for Pakistan: Pakistani society is fundamentally incompatible with democracy or even sound governance, and the Chinese will offer & expect neither. It could devolve into the brutal military dictatorship it was always meant to be, and is most comfortable being, and the Chinese would never pester them about “elections” or “civil rule”. The insane anarchy that has infected Pakistan in the last few decades of American naivete could be safely directed at the Chinese & their partners, and the rest of the world could perhaps be spared some of its vile outbursts, though I doubt you will ever see the Chinese admit as many Pakistani immigrants into their country as the US and Europe has–they aren’t *that* stupid.

Posted by Scriptfish | Report as abusive

“The government has a weak hold on power, the parliament is pissed, and the populace is strongly anti-American.”
a) Terrorists need to be destroyed
b) Terrorism needs to be destroyed
c) Country needs to remain intact
..phew … tall order…
While the counter terror measures will definitely take out ‘terrorists’, but only a pro-american public opinion can put an end to ‘terrorism’, and building such opinion will require lots of aid and development – So the marriage of convenience must continue and more aid should flow.
It might be worthwhile to disarm Pak of its WMD as well!

Posted by gr8cocktail | Report as abusive

America is the only country in the history of mankind that has used Nuclear weapons, invaded sovereign countries such as Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan. The only country to have bases and agents all over the world through which it creates terrorists. Why is it always America? Places like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghuraib prison and then you guys talk about Democracy and human rights… So you guys can have Nukes but no one else can??? Come on guys, this world is not your hollywood set nor it is your WWF ring, If you really want peace in this world, address the root problems or better just leave the rest of this world and mind your business. This world was a much safer place before Sept 11 and ever since the over reaction by the americans, no one is safe anymore. I am tired of these double standards and one sided stories, especially these pseudo intellectuals who believe everything their govt tells them. Wake up before its too late guys, I still think that the american people are the best in the world but this is changing fast. through thi constant fear and panic, even an ordinary american who was once open minded, loving and caring has become intolerant and vengeful towards the rest of the world. Please, we want our America back,

Posted by kc4justice | Report as abusive

Most of our foreign aid is really bribes to dictators and oppressive governments. Why, for example, does Israel need $3 billion a year from the American taxpayer? It’s not a third world country and has a robust economy. It spends our tax money on its illegal Occupation and weapons to oppress Palestinians. Why should American taxpayers give our hard-earned money to that undemocratic country when we have so many pressing issues at home? We passed Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, yet we give money to an apartheid country? Congress–stop these practices!

Posted by cautious123 | Report as abusive

The core of this article is ”Why don’t they like us?”

Debusmann answers his own question: ”For decades, Washington has seen foreign assistance as an essential instrument of foreign policy, meant in part to positively influence attitudes abroad”.

For civilised countries, foreign aid is just that: AID. Not political influence-mongering. Countries like Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands give aid, but do not expect instant compliance with instructions from Berlin, Stockholm or the Hague in return. Aid recipients understand the difference.


Posted by spanner48 | Report as abusive

[…] […]

Posted by Amrullah Salih on US-Pakistan relations – Page 3 – Pashtun Community | Pashtuns | Pashto | | Report as abusive

[…] course, Israel is just one of 149 nations receiving foreign aid from the U.S. government.  The list even includes Russia ($66.6 million), […]

Posted by The Danger of Foreign Aid « Truth & Culture | Report as abusive


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Posted by Fans Buy | Report as abusive

Doesn’t anyone in Congress have any Hutzpah?I am sick of reading about our servicemen being killed over this Koran issue and all we do is apologize.It’s time to cut out Afganistans Foreign Aid.It’s obviously not doing us any good.When are we going to wake up?

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