The Most Significant Story Out of Pakistan Today is Not about Bin Laden

For obvious reasons, national attention is siezed today by the killing of Bin Laden. Buried in today’s news, however, is a story that will likely be far more significant to long term American and international interests in Pakistan.

Two years ago, the United States approved a multi-billion dollar civilian aid program to Pakistan to promote economic growth, stability and political reform. According to a new Inspector General report, USAID has been unable to implement the aid program.  From the New York Times:

A multibillion-dollar aid plan that the Obama administration hoped would win over Pakistanis and buttress the weak civilian government is foundering because Washington’s fears of Pakistani corruption and incompetence has slowed disbursal of the money, undermining a fundamental goal of the United States in Pakistan, officials from both nations say.

The aid program promoted by Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, promised Pakistan $7.5 billion over five years, much of it delivered through the civilian government.

But so inadequate is Pakistan’s civilian bureaucracy and so rife are United States fears of corruption in the government that American officials, constricted by layers of their own rules, have struggled to find safe places to actually invest the money available. Instead of polishing the tarnished image of America with a suspicious, even hostile, Pakistani public and government, the plan has resulted in bitterness and a sense of broken promises.

In a scathing report, the Government Accountability Office said that only $179.5 million of the first $1.5 billion of the five-year program had been disbursed by last December.

There seems to be plenty of political will here in the United States to make a significant investment in ameliorating these sources of instability. The Senate, after all, passed an enormous aid package in a time of fiscal austerity. It would seem, though, actually implementing these programs seems to be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

What makes this so problematic is that over the long term, youth unemployment, corruption, and stagnant economic growth in Pakistan will have a far greater impact on the stability of the country than one man hiding in his mansion house.