Here’s something I noticed yesterday: The number of people living in poverty in Pakistan fell from 30% in 1999 to 17% in 2008. Of course it’s not doing so hot now, what with the Taliban resurgence, GEC (global economic calamity), and more recently the unspeakable damage caused by the floods. Still, even the 30% figure is lower then I’d have guessed. I think the reason is that we always hear it discussed together with Afghanistan, and assume both places to be roughly equivalent. Actually, the purchasing power equity-balanced per-capita GDP (PPEBPCGDP?) of Pakistan is three times that of its neighbor. There are parts of Pakistan that are hellhole-esque, but most of it is not that different from eastern Europe — a little dirty and revenge-killing-y, but with a bustling economy, a sophisticated upper-middle class, and ogles of culture.
So where did Pakistan’s growth spurt come from? Well, lots of it came from foreign aid and remittances from Pakistanis working abroad, but lots also comes from entrepreneurship both large and small, and from budding investments in infrastructure. Before the global GEC, there was substantial interest in investment in Pakistan from the foreign private sector.
But so, it’s all about perception. The people of the US and Pakistan just do not like each other very much. The US has contributed some $18 billion in foreign aid to Pakistan since 2001, but most of it has been in military aid and designated for “anti-terrorism,” which often translates to activities that cause civilian casualties. To put it another way, how would you feel if there were Pakistani drones hovering over your town, and you knew a few people who had relatives killed as collateral damage in drone strikes? How would you feel if you heard that idiots in Gainesville were planning on burning your holy book and calling you the devil?
As the New Yorker article concludes:
The agricultural market towns in the flood zone—Ghotki, Jacobabad, Shahdadkot—are not notable breeding grounds for international terrorism. They are home instead to the marginal lives of another Pakistan, one poised for many years between aspiration and collapse—that of landless laborers, tenant farmers, bus drivers, and shopkeepers. These Pakistanis belong to no war party and live in peaceful indifference to the United States. To help reimagine their future, and that of their country, the place to begin is to come unconditionally to their aid.