WASHINGTON: It was like a talkshow on a Pakistani news channel when two top former officials of Pakistan had a heated exchange at a reputed US institution about the future of US-Pakistan ties and the Coalition Support Fund (CSF).
Former governor of State Bank Dr Ishrat Hussain and former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani were debating the utility of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and the US aid for Pakistan at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) here on Wednesday.
The audience included the former top US diplomats including assistant secretary of state for South Asian Robin L Raphel, experts of US foreign policy and some serving officials from both the countries.
“CSF was not assistance. It was our money that we spent to support the US logistic operations in Afghanistan during the war on terror and it was reimbursed later. I sat in cabinet meetings where we approved allocation from our own budget to support the US operation. That money was later reimbursed by the US government through the CSF,” Dr Ishrat said while responding to Haqqani’s point that Pakistan did not deliver enough after receiving the US assistance after 9/11.
While praising the Indian progress after independence, Haqqani strongly criticised Pakistan for failing to utilise $43 billion aid it received from the US since 1949 for its development.
Haqqani argued that the US should not provide large-scale assistance to Pakistan. However, the former ambassador of Pakistan was reminded by no one else but an American former official that the US assistance was given to Pakistan to protect US national interests.
“May be you are not serving your national interests by giving money to Pakistan,” Haqqani told the former US official. Haqqani said during his tenure as Pakistan ambassador he received the CSF bills that were objected to by the US authorities. “Once I received a request for $120 million for beef that was used by Pakistani soldiers serving in Swat and $100 million for barbed wire in tribal areas. I was asked by US officials what kind of barbed wire costs that much.”
The moderator of the discussion had to intervene to stop the heated exchange between Ishrat and Haqqani as the former ambassador started interrupting Ishrat. Dr Ishrat said whatever assistance Pakistan received was delivered when the US needed Pakistani support. “Whether it was during the 1960s Cold War or 1980’s Afghan war and the recent war on terror, the assistance was given to promote the US national interests in the region.”
He said Pakistan did not need an aid model that never worked as it could not promote development. He said the US and Pakistan should cooperate in educational exchanges and human resource development as South Asian country’s had huge potential.
“US Fulbright programme is helping Pakistani students but these students need to be sent to the top US universities to learn science, mathematics and related subjects,” Ishrat said adding that currently majority of Pakistani students were placed in less famous universities as it cost less.
To this, Husain Haqqani argued that Pakistani students were not enough talented to get admission to the top Ivy League universities prompting a response from Ishrat. “This is not true I know many Pakistani students in my institute who are brilliant and could get admission anywhere,” Ishrat, who served as dean and director of the prestigious Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Karachi, said.
Speaking on the occasion Robin Raphel said the US assistance to Pakistan did achieve objectives. “We always know money can’t buy you love but when you build road, you build hospital or school, people do like that,” she said. She listed major development projects that were completed in Pakistan with US assistance provided under the Kerry-Lugar bill.
These projects included the 2,400 megawatt electricity project, 1,100-kilometre road in tribal areas, clean energy project, the largest Fulbright programme and university partnership apart from $1 billion humanitarian assistance.
Praising Vision 2025 programme of PML-N government, she said Pakistan under the current government had better sense of development priorities. She said the current Pakistani administration was not talking much about aid but the focus had now shifted to trade and business opportunities.
She stressed that the US must stay engaged with Pakistan in its development through economic reforms as Pakistan was in the best US interest in the South Asian region. “We need to keep a development programme running no matter if it does not run in billions,” she said. The panelists agreed that under the Trump administration, the US-Pakistan ties would be straine