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Don’t Put Pakistan in the Rearview Mirror

Don't Put Pakistan in the Rearview Mirror

As President Trump eyes a hardening line towards Pakistan, its clear that somehow my country–a priority to at least the last three administrations– has ended up in the rearview mirror. Nuclear armed, perennially on the edge of chaos, and a well-worn redoubt for Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists, US interests in Pakistan should be on the front burner. Yet the only dialogue revolves around a proposal to convert foreign military aid from grants into loans. This is a mistake. Instead of chopping successful counterterrorism programs, the Trump administration would be wise to help Pakistan attack the inefficiency and corruption that drain needed resources from the fight against extremists and undermine the legitimacy of our democracy.

The US has spent billions in military expenditures here over the last 15 years, and American troops are committed just across the border in the basket-case that is Afghanistan. To use Trumpian language, maybe the US-Pakistani status quo represents a “bad deal”. For one, US popularity, despite exorbitant taxpayer-funded spending on Pakistan’s security, infrastructure, and the economy, is approximately on par with that of ISIS. But rather than cut funding to Pakistan’s military that is producing real results in the fight against terrorism, the President should ensure that US taxpayer money does not fuel the coffers of corruption. Consider the case that symbolizes the waste and the irony of US spending here: Transparency International in Pakistan (TIP).

TIP’s parent organization Transparency International (TI), is a known anti-corruption watchdog based in Berlin. Each year, it produces an annual report, that consistently ranks Pakistan as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. But despite TI’s role in blowing the whistle on fraud, nepotism, and cronyism worldwide, its USAID-funded Pakistan branch has quietly gone rogue as a multi-million-dollar anti-fraud hotline run on nepotism.

Both TI and USAID have stringent policies against such preferential practices. Nonetheless, the USAID funded “So Called” anti-corruption hotline run by TIP is run by a Fawad Gilani who is the son of former TIP chairman – then ‘Senior Advisor’ – Adil Gilani. Not only did the former Chairman Adil Gilani sign the original deal with USAID for the multi-million dollar grant (now touching the USD 5 million dollar mark) he also conveniently set up the well paid job for his son to lead the US funded project.

More worrisome, however, is Adil’s role as a consultant and unofficial advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. As Fawad travels the world on the USAID’s dime, he has failed entirely to investigate complaints against his father’s consulting contracts and other major domestic cases. Meanwhile, Gilani Senior ensures TIP gives the Pakistan Government a “clean chit”, or turns a blind eye to it, in return for personal gain. Even as the government remained mired in corruption scandals ranging from offshore accounts disclosed during the Panama Leaks, to charges of bribery at the highest levels of government and judicial circles, TIP has used a ‘light touch’ in Pakistan in exchange for the Senior Gilani’s appointment as Ambassador of Pakistan to Serbia.

But nepotism and conflicts of interest are hardly the worst of TIP’s troubles. Governance failures and alleged corruption among TIP’s leadership are rampant in its shady record. Nepotism in TIP was always obvious as in violation of its own Governance Manual, during Gilani Senior’s tenure as chairman his son Fawad served as a “Procurement Specialist” for TI Pakistan. In similar vein, it is a fact that Gilani senior and some board members did not disclose or update their Conflicts of Interest Register on their website as required in their Code of Conduct.

However, when troubling facts about Gilani’s conduct in using TIP as a weapon to sue UAE origin property developer Emaar Giga came up (while he was compensated and was part of developing a competing project) the matter was shockingly brushed under the carpet by Transparency International. Not only was there no independent inquiry conducted but instead the former Chairman continued to serve as a ‘Senior Advisor’ to TIP. The irony was that the competing developer (where then TIP Chairman Gilani was effectively employed), had its project suspended by the Courts – pending legal investigation – for unsound construction and failure to comply with zoning regulations. Interestingly, there is not a peep from TI Pakistan on this matter.

Similarly, the downfall of American energy company Walter Power’s projects in Pakistan serves as another case and point.  Led by a respected former Governor of Oklahoma, the company was pushed out of Pakistan based on unfounded complaints that TIP filed with the Department of Justice (DoJ). The DoJ investigation turned up no evidence for the claim. Meanwhile, conveniently not mentioned anywhere was the fact that former Chairman Adil Gilani (and current Chairman Sohail Muzzafar as his legal Counsel), were involved in litigation against the firm’s Pakistani partners at the same time. The complaint and investigation – veritable scarlet letters in the power bidding business – were enough to block the company from providing affordable power to millions of Pakistanis. And just like the case with Emaar project (now finally being completed) the allegations proved to be fictitious or technical trivialities used to delay the project causing it irreparable harm.

TIP’s messy internal corruption, cronyism, unethical and politically-charged agenda is helping drive anti-Western sentiment in Pakistan. A nation where approximately 74 percent of citizens consider America – our decades-long ally – an enemy, the distrust and cynicism generated by TIP is viewed as yet another reflection of US money and power in Pakistani society. On the flip side, only 28 percent of Pakistanis have an actively unfavorable view of ISIS, with 62 percent offering no opinion. This bleak dynamic is quite literally driving your allies into the arms of your biggest foes, all with your own taxpayer dollars. And then US military budgets have to go up to rebuff the fallout.

As a former young journalist fellow with TI and an Emmy nominated journalist, I have witnessed these vicious dynamics firsthand. I am not the first or last person to have vocalized concern over TIP’s practices. Incumbent cabinet ministers, award-winning journalists, senior bureaucrats, leading industrialists and even courageous insiders, have spoken about TIP. Despite this, USAID money to TIP keeps flowing and the waste goes on. But if the White House will recognize and caulk these exorbitant leaks, it can comfortably take funding for worthy causes – such as operations against the Taliban – off the chopping block.

Khan is Pakistan’s only Emmy-nominated reporter, corresponds for NBC News and the Times of London, and is a former Harvard Shorenstein Center and Transparency International Young Journalist Fellow.