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US dollars fail to win friends

world Updated: Aug 25, 2010 01:12 IST
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Everyone here remembers the Americans. They came with their blueprints, their engineering know-how and their money. By the time they left in the early 1970s, they had helped build a world-class dam that kept parts of Pakistan dry this month while vast stretches of the country drowned.

"This dam gives great benefit to the nation, and if not for the Americans it would never have been constructed," said Syed Naimat Shah, a local contractor.

But Shah hasn't seen any new assistance from the Americans in decades, and apparently many Pakistanis haven't, either.

The US government has provided about $18 billion in civilian and military aid to Pakistan since the September 11, 2001, attacks made this country America's most essential, and vexing, ally.

Yet according to a Pew Research Center survey released last month, half of Pakistanis believe the United States gives little to no assistance here.

For Obama administration officials, that's a source of deep anxiety — and frustration. Pakistan is at the center of US hopes to turn around the flagging Afghan war, but persistent anti-American feelings limit the extent of Pakistani cooperation.

Pakistanis insist they just don't see any tangible impact from the massive sums the United States spends. Unlike assistance from decades ago, the money from the post-September 11 era, Pakistanis say, tends to vanish without a trace. "Everyone here hates the American government," said Shah, a spirited 71-year-old.

Analysts say there are many reasons: poor coordination with the Pakistani government, a lack of understanding of Pakistan's needs and a reluctance to produce iconic projects, lest they become targets for terrorists.

Although the United States has received praise here for its speedy response to the summer's catastrophic floods, Pakistanis remain suspicious of American motives.

In the Pew poll, nearly six in 10 Pakistanis described the United States as an enemy; only one in 10 called it a partner.

In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post.

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