Why Pakistan Matters To The Next U.S. President

Today, as the United States chooses its next leader, the rest of the world holds its breath. The new president will face many challenges upon taking office, and it is not for me, an interested outside observer, to rate them. But I do have an important message to share. From where I am sitting in Pakistan, there is a microcosm of many of the threats and opportunities that confront the new incumbent. Billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars pour into my country to help consolidate democracy and keep the terrorists at bay. Many of those dollars are being wasted and the mission is failing. It should be no surprise that the United States found and killed Osama bin Laden here and that the conflict next door in Afghanistan drags on as the country’s longest war. Polls place America’s popularity as marginal, just above support for the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we want to succeed. So don’t abandon us. Just fix our broken relationship.

It starts with helping us fight corruption. Corruption in our government is a toxin that contaminates our entire country. It breeds cynicism among our people, thousands of whom marched upon the capital as late as last week, demanding more transparency in a corruption probe against the prime minister. Then, it delegitimizes our institutions by allowing a blind eye to be turned to financial and regulatory abuse. Importantly, it steeps and dyes even our security services, which leads to threats unheeded going from local to global. Despite international pressure to clean house, corruption cannot be unstitched from the fabric of the Pakistani state. So much so that it has wormed its way into the leading anti-corruption oversight agency, Transparency International in Pakistan (TIP).

TIP is itself a walking, talking conflict of interest. TIP’s leadership now “advises” the government and holds office in the prime minister’s secretariat while auditing it at the same time. The chairman of TIP, who signed a multimillion dollar contract with USAID for a U.S.-taxpayer funded anti-corruption hotline, had his own son appointed as head of the program. Only in Pakistan could nepotism be the face of an anti-corruption project that Americans continue to pay for.

Alas, nobody watches the watchdogs. It should be no surprise that the Pakistani people lose faith in the U.S. government and in their own. It opens the door to the appeal of extremist organizations who lure supporters with seemingly “pure” alternatives. Only 20% of the Pakistani population supports the government’s friendly relationship with the United States. Compare that with the nearly 10% which openly support ISIS, and the figure becomes even bleaker.

That said, pulling the plug on funds would be a drastic mistake. Measures such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker’s move to ban Pakistani purchase of F-16s and the 2016 passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which will block $450 million in aid to Islamabad, only serve to deepen the relational chasm between nations. This chilling in U.S.-Pakistan relations feeds directly into the rhetoric and intents of extremist organizations, fills their ranks with recruits, and leaves us with few friends in a strategically critical region.

You have three policy options: (1) continue U.S. aid to Pakistan with no change, (2) limit U.S. aid to Pakistan, or (3) reform and rethink our aid.

The third option is not only most efficient but will serve to address issues of instability and corruption in Pakistan. Just as the United States conditions its military aid, it must also condition its civilian aid, encouraging transparency and urging Pakistani oversight institutions on reforms of accountability and anti-corruption policies. Following suit, USAID should conduct an overhaul of its oversight policies and enact strict follow-through on grants to ensure that good money is being put to good use. With precious tax dollars and the fate of a strategically critical region in play, the United States cannot just tick the box of “aid granted” and move on to the next budget cycle.

To preserve the integrity of foreign funds, the next U.S. president’s tenure in Washington must show a new vigilance: Reform the aid infrastructure lest non-governmental antagonists deal irreparable blows with America’s own wayward dollars. Only the development of transparent, legitimate institutions accountable to the people can serve as a long-term bulwark against instability and extremism. The voters deserve that security, and the allies need that reminder.

The article was originally published in Forbes. Read full article here