Opinion Columns & Blogs

Afghanistan, Pakistan ungrateful for U.S. aid

By now everyone with an opinion about the viability of President Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan has proffered it to anyone who would listen. But here's one important complication that has received little airtime: In both countries, they despise us.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the populations harbor a deep, visceral hatred of the United States born of perceived grievances, some present-day and others long past, carefully nurtured so that they can be passed from one generation to the next. To hear them tell it, America's presence in the region over the past eight years has made things only worse.

Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold, is a primary focus of Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan. In recent months, American troops have freed a handful of villages from Taliban control and found, to their dismay, that the villagers are anything but grateful.

"What are you doing here?" an unabashed village elder near Mianposhteh, Helmand, asked an American commander just after his men had won control of the area. "What are you doing in Afghanistan? You should go back to your country."

That sentiment, reported in the Washington Post, is all-too typical. Afghans, generally, don't much like the Taliban. But they like Americans less.

The United States and NATO have given up thousands of lives, billions of dollars, all sacrificed for the twin goals of eliminating al-Qaida and bringing Afghans and Pakistanis freedom to live their lives as they choose. The job is far from finished and, like every military, the West has committed blunders and miscalculations along the way.

But in both states, gratitude is the last emotion in the people's minds. Where, they ask, was the United States in the terrible years before Sept. 11, 2001? No one cared about Afghanistan then.

As Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani president, put it earlier this month, "Pakistan and Afghanistan were shortsightedly abandoned to their fate by the West in 1989. This abandonment led to a sense of betrayal."

The only Pakistanis who show any generosity toward the United States were government officials who depend on American aid to make their auto payments and pay their children's private-school bills.

Most telling of all was President Asif Ali Zardari's recent commentary in the New York Times. Zardari asked Americans to look at recent history "as seen by Pakistanis." As he described it, over the past few decades the United States has insulted, slighted and ignored Pakistan, all "to manipulate and exploit us."

Now, he said, the nation is insulted once again because a new law requires the United States to certify that Pakistan is actually "demonstrating a sustained commitment" to combating terrorist groups before delivering aid. That, Zardari complained, is "unfair treatment."

Well, was it fair for Pakistan to take $10 billion in American aid over the past eight years and spend it on anything and everything — except what it was intended for? For Pakistanis and Afghans, the United States is a convenient scapegoat for their own myriad failings. I, for one, have to focus hard on America's own goals before I can stomach spending another dime on those ungrateful people.