Yesterday the Senate unanimously passed a measure that would triple non-military assistance to Pakistan (S. 962). The House passed similar legislation on June 11 (H.R. 1886). A conference committee will now seek to resolve differences in the legislation, especially in regard to tougher House provisions for financial auditing and accountability.
The Senate measure provides $1.5 billion per year for five years in humanitarian and economic support.
Since mid-April roughly 2 million people have been displaced as a result of operations against neo-Taliban forces in the Swat valley. Tens of thousands more are streaming out of South Waziristan where a sustained fight against Taliban, neo-Taliban, and al-Qaeda is expected in the next several days.
“In Pakistan, some 300,000 refugees are living outdoors, in tents or similar structures, said Michael Kocher, vice president of international programs for the International Rescue Committee.”
According to CNN, “extreme heat plagued Pakistan, with temperatures in May and June soaring past 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). The heat is escalating the discomfort for many.”
“People are living in cramped situations, often unsanitary situations, and it’s very hot,” Kocher said. “In many places, there is not enough clean water or adequate sanitation. Heat exacerbates that problem.”
The refugee — or internally displaced persons (IDP) — camps are, however, only the tip of a sharp spear. According to a report released yesterday by Refugees International, “the vast majority of the displaced – over 80 percent – are staying with host families who are quickly running out of resources. One aid organization has even reported ‘pockets of starvation’.”
The same report notes, not surprisingly, that “Jihadist groups” have begun to fill the assistance vacuum. Taliban and their allies are providing food, shelter, and medical assistance where the Pakistan government, United Nations, and others are not. The Taliban is also seeking to intimidate NGOs that are in place to leave.
For years the United States has urged Pakistan to be more aggressive against our adversaries along the Afpak border. These include several who have specifically threatened attacks on the United States. Since mid-April, there has been a substantive change. Pakistan is fighting hard. Our adversaries over-reached and they are paying the price.
But for our resilient foe, every crisis presents an opportunity. The more Pakistanis who are displaced, the longer they are displaced, and the more difficult their displacement, the more opportunity is given our adversaries.
The annual budget of Pakistan, adopted Saturday, is roughly $36 billion. Another $1.5 billion in non-military assistance from the US is not insignificant. But unless this funding is deployed quickly and effectively there is a real danger it will be entirely too little, too late.
The House and Senate bills, hyperlinked above, are worth reading. Each are well-crafted pieces of legislation. The legislative requirements for audits and reports are entirely reasonable, if at times just a tad anal. There is a very real concern the funds will be squandered by bureaucracy, corruption, and the purchase of military toys. (For Pakistan’s track-record in this regard, please read Pakistan on the Brink by Ahmed Rashid.)
But I hope and pray the House and Senate conferees have the ability, “to accept that which cannot be changed; courage to change that which can be changed, and (have the) wisdom to know the one from the other.” And to do so with remarkable alacrity.