AS America and Pakistan struggle to redefine their relationship in the aftermath of a series of challenging developments this year, one issue that has come up for debate in the US is aid to Pakistan. President Zardari warned a congressional delegation on Tuesday that cuts in assistance will further damage America`s image in the eyes of the Pakistani public. But while there are good reasons to maintain the aid programme, anti-Americanism is not a convincing argument, and using it could come across as little more than a calculated pressure tactic. The fact is that despite billions of dollars in aid from the US over the last decade, polls and anecdotal evidence have shown that America`s approval rating among Pakistanis has been declining, and that this has largely been driven by an American foreign policy seen as being against the interests of Pakistan and other Muslim countries. In fact, aid can even strengthen anti-American feeling if seen as a tool used to buy Pakistan`s leadership.
More logical arguments for maintaining assistance are the resource shortages and economic problems Pakistan is facing and the condition of the US-Pakistan relationship at the state level. The worst of the tensions between the two countries that began in January may be calming down, but this crucial relationship is not yet back on track. In the current circumstances, US aid is one of the programmes keeping it going. President Zardari`s comments came again the backdrop of legislation approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee that would tie assistance to Pakistan`s cooperation with American counterterrorism efforts. As the legislation makes its way through Congress, one hopes that lawmakers who recognise the value of a close relationship and the tangible ways in which US aid can help Pakistan will ensure that the restrictions are not more onerous than Pakistan can reasonably handle. Aid by itself, except in natural disasters, has not shown itself to be a tool for winning Pakistani hearts and minds. But as a potential means of building infrastructure and supporting the economy, it can have positive effects on Pakistan`s own security and its progress against militancy and terrorism.