I saw Charlie Wilson’s War Saturday night (two thumbs up, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic, and the great irony about the film is that they had to tone it down from Wilson’s actual life). What’s most fascinating about watching a movie like that is how much of a commentary it is on the present day, as the events from 20+ years ago have a direct and not at all subtle link to the present day’s politics.

There’s a very poignant scene in the movie where Wilson goes to Pakistan for the first time and meets President Zia ul-Haq and his two military advisers. They are asking Wilson for billions in new aid, and at the end of the pitch, Zia says “all the money should flow through us.” And it did.

Now, 20-some years later, the US is fighting another war in Afghanistan, sending billions through Pakistan to fund it. Pakistan is now the #3 recipient of US foreign aid, receiving over $700 million in FY 2007. Two investigative stories in the NY Times reveal that the billions already spent have been fruitless at best and damaging to US interests at worst, while future plans to develop a new AID package for the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan might be dead on arrival, regardless of how the US organizes its operation.

The idea behind the initial and ongoing direct payments to Pakistan were to build the Pakistani military’s effectiveness in counter-terrorist operations and quelling the insurgent Taliban / Al Qaeda forces. However,

Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs….

The $5 billion was provided through a program known as Coalition Support Funds, which reimburses Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism. Under a separate program, Pakistan receives $300 million per year in traditional American military financing that pays for equipment and training…

“I wonder if the Americans have not been taken for a ride,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Bush Administration is now reviewing its AID program to Pakistan. The goal is to have funds flow to the massively underdeveloped northwestern provinces to build social and governmental capacity to combat terrorist influence. But,

Because the United States is viewed with such opprobrium, it will not be identified on any of the aid, preventing any possible flow of good will. The aid will instead be presented as Pakistani. That, said a senior United States Embassy official, would help the Pakistanis feel like owners of the effort. “This is about teaching them how to get smart about how to run the country and win people’s support,” the official said.

Asked what he thought of the American goal to improve the “capacity” of the administration of which he is a senior member, Mr. Iqbal, the Pakistani official, who attended college in the United States, replied, “Bunkum.”

So here (not Iraq) you have the ‘central front in the war on terrorism’ and the US is pouring in all kinds of money in military and development assistance, and with next to nothing to show for it. Standing right there next to nothing is

one senior American military officer in Afghanistan said that he did not know that the administration was spending $1 billion a year until he attended a meeting in Islamabad in 2006.

“I was astounded,” said the officer, who would not speak for attribution because he now holds another senior military post. “On one side of the border we were paying a billion to get very little done. On the other side of the border — the Afghan side — we were scrambling to find the funds to train an army that actually wanted to get something done.”

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