Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Getting aid right in Pakistan

Bringing out a report on the effect of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act - which regulates US non-military aid to Pakistan - just as relations between the two countries disappear down the pan may not be the best of timing. But a 17-strong panel brought together by the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program has concluded that robust US civilian assistance to Pakistan serves important interests in both countries.
Aiding Without Abetting: Making US Civilian Assistance to Pakistan Work for Both Sides also warns that changes are needed to the Act and offers almost 30 recommendations. The report recommends that aid should not be tied to security or economic reform and that Pakistan should be pressed to return to an arrangement with the IMF.
It suggests a more realistic timeline for stepping up the percentages of US aid to be dispensed through Pakistani government structures, while at the same time pressing the country to improve tracking and donor oversight of aid. Support for the Benazir Income Support Program should only be continued if political manipulation can be halted.
Priorities for funding should be clean urban water, power, sanitation, youth organisations and literacy training. Support should also be given to the small/medium enterprises sector.
There are many other good proposals in this report from a group of experts who clearly understand the weaknesses of the present system.
However, it is hard to be as optimistic as the authors of this report about the prospects for the future. It is self-evident that much of the senior bureaucracy in Pakistan is in reality a kleptocracy. Aid enriches officials - and international NGOs - and only seldom reaches down to the masses. Monitoring costs consume an ever-increasing proportion of aid. And the political context is becoming ever-more complex. The Woodrow Wilson report says that terminating the US assistance program "would fuel anti-Americanism in Pakistan". In truth, relations between the two countries are so bad at present, that short of outright war, it is hard to perceive them as being any worse: the Raymond Davis affair, the killing of bin Laden, the growing Pakistani opposition to drone attacks, the recent cross-border attack, the ongoing support by the Pakistan military for the insurgency in Afghanistan and many other incidents mark what must be the worst year for US-Pakistan bilateral relations in a generation. I'm not convinced that even a $7.5 billion aid program can sort that lot out.  

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