The UK Government is planning to double overseas aid to Pakistan to more than £445 million and the country can clearly use it. Even before the devastation of last year’s massive floods the country was near enough to broke and needed to be rescued by an International Monetary Fund loan. But for the need of the United States to prop up the government as part of allied efforts to contain the Taliban in Afghanistan Pakistan would surely have been declared in default by the IMF late last year for failing to implement a promised new taxation policy. Not that the leniency is paying any huge dividend.

The stand-off between the US and Pakistan continues over the granting of diplomatic immunity to a US spook accused of murdering two civilians in Lahore. And the recent murder in Islamabad of Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the Pakistani Cabinet and an outspoken critic of the country’s blasphemy laws, suggests that Muslim militancy with its opposition to the US and its European allies is increasing rather than decreasing.

It is one of those all too familiar diplomatic problems, as events in North Africa are showing as well, that happen when democracies choose to keep propping up corrupt regimes for some other supposedly greater interest.

This week the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has embarrassed the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague by attacking his foreign aid for Pakistan policy.

The UK’s most senior Catholic says the aid package should be conditional on a commitment to religious freedom and a pledge to protect Christians and other religious minorities.

The Scottish Herald reports Cardinal O’Brien urging Mr Hague to obtain guarantees from foreign governments before they are given aid.

“To increase aid to the Pakistan Government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti- Christian foreign policy.

“Pressure should now be put on the Pakistan Government, and the governments of the Arab world as well, to ensure religious freedom is upheld. The provision of aid must require a commitment to human rights.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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