Helping Where We’re Not Wanted

The administration has some pretty exciting ideas about increasing American assistance to Pakistan and rebalancing much more toward the civilian side of things and away from our traditional reliance on military strongmen as our key friends over there. I think it’s a good idea and on a number of levels it seems to hold a lot of promise. What’s more, the strategic goal strikes me as fairly clear — a legitimate, effective Pakistani state would serve our interests, and the costs involved in even a “big” aid program are pretty low in the scheme of things.

My one doubt about this all is, however, a pretty serious one. By all anecdotal accounts I’ve ever heard from Pakistanis or Pakistani-Americans, the United States is really really hated in Pakistan. And the polling from Pew and others bears that out. Helene Cooper has a good piece about this in The New York Times:

Judith A. McHale was expecting a contentious session with Ansar Abbasi, a Pakistani journalist known for his harsh criticism of American foreign policy, when she sat down for a one-on-one meeting with him in a hotel conference room in Islamabad on Monday. She got that, and a little bit more. […] “‘You should know that we hate all Americans,’” Ms. McHale said Mr. Abbasi told her. “‘From the bottom of our souls, we hate you.’”

Beyond the continuation of the battle against militants along the Pakistani-Afghan border, a big part of President Obama’s strategy for the region involves trying to broaden America’s involvement in the country to include nonmilitary areas like infrastructure development, trade, energy, schools and jobs — all aimed at convincing the Pakistani people that the United States is their friend. But as Ms. McHale and other American officials discovered this week, during a visit by Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, making that case was not going to be easy.


On the one hand, this could be said to underscore the vital need for a big reboot of US commitment to Pakistan. On the other hand, how effective can anything we try to do to help Pakistan be under situations where people really don’t seem to want our help? It’s also noteworthy that if you look around the countries where we’re most disliked tend to be our “friends” like Pakistan and Egypt while in countries we don’t “help” like Iran we’re see much more positively.