ISLAMABAD — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday unveiled $500 million worth of civilian aid projects for key ally Pakistan, in an attempt to counter rampant anti-Americanism in the country by reaching out to the population with tangible help.
The aim of the projects was to show that the U.S. relationship "goes far beyond security," and they ranged from restoring a historical fort to boosting mango exports. The money is part of the $1.5 billion a year pledged to Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar bill, named for Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass, and Richard Lugar, R-Ind, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It represents a tripling of U.S. civilian aid to the country.
Since 2001, Pakistanis have complained that the United States was using their country for U.S. security aims alone, with all benefits going to Pakistan's dominant military apparatus. The Obama administration says it's determined to change that perception.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan, a country of 170 million people, is threatened by a sinking economy, a fragile political system and an Islamist insurgency, making for a potential nightmare scenario for global security that some think is more pressing and difficult to tackle than Afghanistan is.
Never miss a local story.
Clinton, in Islamabad for a two-day visit on her way to a major international conference in Afghanistan, asked for Pakistan's help in return. She said she thought that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden were hiding in Pakistan.
"I believe they're here in Pakistan, and it would be really helpful if we could get them," said Clinton, addressing a panel of Pakistani journalists.
The biggest chunk of the U.S. aid cash, $270 million, will help fund seven water projects, including overhauling the water supplies in two cities. Some $60 million will go toward electricity generation, focused on work on dams, $28 million will be spent on hospitals and there will be a $50 million injection into a private equity fund that invests in Pakistan.
One of the beneficiaries, the Gomal dam, is in the Taliban-infested South Waziristan area, on the border with Afghanistan. The U.S. money will be used to finish the dam project, providing electricity to 200,000 people. An associated project will control flooding and store water to irrigate 190,000 acres in South Waziristan and the adjacent areas of Tank and Dera Ismail Khan, benefiting 30,000 farming families.
Robert Wilson, the Pakistan director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the official aid agency that's overseeing the assistance program, told McClatchy that the Gomal irrigation project had the potential to transform farming in South Waziristan and the surrounding area to something akin to parts of California. South Waziristan is a base for al Qaida and Afghan and Pakistani Taliban insurgents.
"Of course there is a legacy of suspicion that we inherited. It is not going to be eliminated overnight," Clinton said after talks with Pakistani officials. "It is, however, our goal to slowly but surely demonstrate that the United States is concerned about Pakistan for the long term and that our partnership goes far beyond security against our common enemies."
"We're trying to escape the bonds of gravity, leave behind an era of mistrust and launch a new period of cooperation," she said.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY