India swiftly set to work in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. It became Afghanistan’s largest donor and pledged $2 billion to rebuild the country’s wrecked infrastructure. Trade between the two countries grew at a tremendous level and meal programmes for two million Afghan schoolchildren have been established. More than a 1,000 students are provided scholarships to study in India each year. Needless to say, India has employed an effective reconstruction strategy in Afghanistan and won over the hearts and minds of Afghans across the spectrum.
Contrast India’s work with the US pledge of $7.5 billion dollars spread over five years for economic assistance to Pakistan. Clearly, the US aid to Pakistan has not begun to approach the same level of results. Almost two years after the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) act was passed, the US is still struggling to devise and implement an effective programme for civilian aid in Pakistan.
In order to achieve similar results in Pakistan, the US should learn from India’s development model in Afghanistan. Most of the projects undertaken in Afghanistan are high profile and quick paced.
After the OBL raid and the Nato airstrike (which resulted in the death of over a dozen of Pakistani troops) the US-Pakistan relationship has become increasingly fragile. Faced with tough economic times at home, some American politicians are pushing to cut off aid to Pakistan. Generally, the Pakistani population perceives US aid as an inadequate exchange for the total disregard of its sovereignty. If the US is going to see the KLB programme through till 2014, then changes to the Bill are required in order to achieve its intended result of “high-impact, high-visibility infrastructure programs”.
Major faults facing KLB are the slow dispersal of funds and the lack of high profile projects for the Pakistani society. Ironically, most of the money gets lost in the vast bureaucracy of USAID, whose role is to ensure that the funds are dispersed properly in the first place. The transparency process needs to become efficient so that the funds are dispersed swiftly, instead of being mired in paperwork. Another way USAID can improve KLB’s effectiveness is by directly employing more locals and Pakistani-Americans in order to have an accountable team on ground, one which speaks the local language and also has access to the remotest areas. In order to increase awareness, the US needs to post signs and advertisements — like China does — alongside their projects in Pakistan. NGOs receiving US funding in Pakistan are not branding their assistance with the USAID logo due to fear of terrorist attacks. Thus, instead of having terrorists set the tone for US engagement in the region, the US should publicise its projects. Despite terrorist attacks on their own people, India has stayed the course with its efforts in Afghanistan and consequently won the recipients over. To compare, residents in the tribal areas are likely to cite drone strikes as a sign of American presence in the region. Being aware of the US development projects in the region will allow residents to form their own opinion instead of falling prey to militant propaganda.
As mentioned in a recent report by the Woodrow Wilson Center, security related conditions need to be removed from civilian aid. US politicians should refrain from punishing the civil sector of Pakistan, who along with the military has paid a gruesome price for their proximate role in the war on terror.
The US State Department reaffirmed their commitment to Pakistan earlier this month, and will continue to provide aid. These funds cannot be expected to transform Pakistan overnight, or to immediately win hearts and minds, but in order to approach those lofty goals some revisions are required to overcome current obstacles. Patience is vital to partnering with Pakistan since the country is still in the dawning of its independence and has an incredibly youthful population. A sincere ally will give Pakistan an opportunity to recover from its errors and eventually overcome pervasive corruption and rampant extremism.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2012.