Making US aid work in Pakistan

Published: February 14, 2012
The writer, a native of South Waziristan, has a master’s degree in conflict resolution from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and blogs at

The writer, a native of South Waziristan, has a master’s degree in conflict resolution from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and blogs at

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.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • taures
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:21PM

    Good stuff


  • Bill
    Feb 14, 2012 - 11:47PM

    The author’s proposals make way too much sense to ever be implemented. Plus Indian and Israeli lobbies in the US will keep their gov’t distracted with one-sided trade deals and unnecessary wars.


  • Feb 15, 2012 - 12:06AM

    The U.S. has given Pakistan military and economic aid for sixty years now. Yet history shows that no matter what efforts the U.S. makes money and technology can’t lift the majority of Pakistanis out of a poverty rooted in corruption, weapon supplies don’t maintain peace when Pakistani leaders obsessed with power and glory, and American training of Pakistani generals doesn’t imbue them with the courage to confront terrorism.

    In short, unless Pakistanis change their hearts and visions it all goes to waste. Continued failure is its own demonstration and I see no reason to continue U.S. aid any further.


  • Rana Athar Javed
    Feb 15, 2012 - 12:23AM

    Indeed a very nice effort to establish a better system of understanding about the US Aid. The author rightly points out that there is a need for immediate changes in the KLB bill and, that the US should refrain from punishing the aid-related civilian sector. Let me go a bit further and say that the US aid for Pakistan must never aim at punishing both military and civilian sectors. Traditionally, this has been the case that the US legislators often incorporate circumstantial and event-based points to build a case for awarding OR not rewarding respective Pakistani governments. This complexity is evident from the fact that whereas, the US authorities failed to comprehend the hostile behaviour of Pakistanis, despite of their enormous AID, the government and people of Pakistan too are confused about the economic role of the US in development of Pakistan. At times, it appear very untimely to suspend the US aid and sanction the defence of Pakistan, on the charges of any type. There is no doubt that India is playing a vital role in Afghanistan’s development and let us hope that Pakistan also gets such kind of favourable attention from its long-terms friends. The world at large must not disregard all those precious lives and loss of billions of dollars & reputation that Pakistan is giving in the name of stabilizing the whole world. This piece sets the tone for a better understanding of Pakistan’s dilemma.


  • Faris
    Feb 15, 2012 - 12:33AM

    Solomon is quick to lecture about power and glory from the comfort of his desk… I’d like to see him give the same remark in front of the 150,000 Pakistani troops fighting extremism on a daily basis. If he survives that, he can then go repeat the same nonsense to the families of the 12,000 casualties lost while combating extremism.

    One good point he made was that it will take an effort from all Pakistanis to better their condition. The author here offers some good recommendations to assist them in this effort.


  • John B
    Feb 15, 2012 - 12:37AM

    I am afraid that the well is too poisoned. No matter how much money is given to PAK establishments, and civilians, the last 15 years of propaganda have damaged the critical thinking of youth who makes up the PAK populace.

    There are three factions in PAK: 1) the feudal politics which prefer aid, growth and power for their own benefits.2) mullah politics which use the poor and hungry to manipulate its way in politics, again for its own gain. 3) the civilian force that will serve which ever politics is at the helm, again for its own gain.

    To stay in power all three need a cause and the uniting force had been India in the past, now it is US for times to come, and will be US and India in the future

    The people who are really concerned about US aid are those who are outside of PAK and are often branded as US stooges.


  • Sikander
    Feb 15, 2012 - 1:21AM

    Agree with all but one. Our generals did a better job of fighting terrorists in the battlefield than US Marines.


  • Tony
    Feb 15, 2012 - 4:00AM

    Very well written article – more like this please ET!


  • Harry Stone
    Feb 15, 2012 - 4:11AM

    Gee the failure of PAK is once again the fault of the US.


  • numbersnumbers
    Feb 15, 2012 - 8:38AM

    US Marines travel half way around the world to fight in Afghanistan, but Pakistani “generals” can’t even catch a bus to North Waziristan to fight!!!!!


  • PirateMan
    Feb 15, 2012 - 9:25AM

    Yes, very good indeed.


  • Cali
    Feb 15, 2012 - 9:26AM

    Excellent piece!


  • YeaRight
    Feb 15, 2012 - 10:10AM

    Angry much? If it wasnt for our generals, you guys would have been forced to exist out of Afghanistan faster. you guys cant control a bunch of crazies using old rusty weapons in Afghanistan, but still have the nerve to question pakistan.


  • Hamid Khan
    Feb 15, 2012 - 10:37AM

    Sabina Khan’s proposals for US aid are best and could deliver best results. I think reaching common people and influencing their minds is necessary. One is spending billions of dollars but still the recipients consider him an enemy is painful. The US authorities should review the mechanism of disbursing funds. I believe in a couple of years, the US image would be improved considerably.


  • Maryam
    Feb 15, 2012 - 11:27AM

    Can you substantiate your claims about India’s delivery on its promises in Afghanistan?
    1000 scholarships may well be true, but establishing schools for 2M children….Really?

    Because last time I looked, that was the first turnout at Afghan schools established by US State Department funds through USAID. And that 2M turnout was the peak at the start. It declined right after that because USAID funds literally dried up. There was no mention of India.

    Reference: Descent Into Chaos, by Ahmed Rashid


  • ahmed
    Feb 15, 2012 - 1:30PM

    @Maryam: Why are you feeling jealous about India. They have made “Afghan parliament” also. Let them do…

    She is just trying to convey a broader message. Why can you understand ??


  • harkol
    Feb 15, 2012 - 2:10PM

    It won’t make any difference if US publicizes its efforts or not. Pakistani hate USA for entirely different reason, and that won’t change. US assistance, which has been substantial over 60yrs, is viewed with suspicion and USA itself is hated for reasons entirely unrelated to anything it did in Pakistan.

    Now, with US focused on the region and likes of Imran siting US as the reason for Pakistan’s misfortune, it won’t matter how much money or publicity US provides in Pakistan. Best course of action for US is to pull out of Afghanistan, treat Pakistan as an adversary. It perhaps will provide far better results than 10 years of bribing.


  • Cynical
    Feb 15, 2012 - 3:57PM

    No aid, repeat no aid is without strings attached to it.
    It’s all about how well you negotiate.


  • vasan
    Feb 15, 2012 - 4:01PM

    Maryam : It is a free meal program in Afganistan for school children, Not the schools themselves. IT is given as high protein biscuits to school children. The quantum was equivalent of 1 million ton. Can u read the article again before commenting


  • CAT
    Feb 15, 2012 - 8:28PM

    Who needs aid? As the 7th nuclear power, we should be giving aid!!!!!!


  • malakandi
    Feb 15, 2012 - 8:58PM

    If you want to find why usaid is such a disaster read the article of Natsios the last USAID world wide director titled “counter bureaucracy”. He states that USAID has been taken over by lawyers, auditors and accountants and has lost its ability to bring about transformational change. Anyone who witnessed the million of dollars usaid sent down the drain in FATA through its inability to work in complex and choatic environments would understand what I am saying. It was not surprising to find USAID staff trying to set up milk chilling plants in areas where no grass growsand doing micro finance where the cost of delivery of micro finance delivery is twenty times more than the amount given out. When I pointed out this to a visiting mission of us congressmen they said that not much can be done because they needed to satisfy their congress that their money was well spent and western organisations did this very well. I totally agree a group of lawyers,auditors and accountants could satisfy them with the right papers with very little difference in the lives of the people on the ground. The story of USAID in Afghanistan is no different but the one difference is the amount of usaid flowing there is so high that some of it has to become visible. Studies by US universities show that aid cannot solve problems and conflicts and should only have developmental objective.


  • Cautious
    Feb 17, 2012 - 12:39AM

    The USA should save it’s money – the Pakistani people hate the American’s and have conveniently forgotten anything America has done for them and will never give them credit for anything they do in the future. Heck Pakistan even took the American labels off the aid packages delivered during you various disasters — that says it all.


  • Feb 17, 2012 - 4:55AM

    ” I’d like to see him give the same remark in front of the 150,000 Pakistani troops fighting extremism on a daily basis. “

    @Faris: I wouldn’t mind The soldiers aren’t to blame for the failures and choices of their superiors, are they?


  • wazir
    Feb 17, 2012 - 10:21AM

    very nice suggestions from sabina khan.but I will add something to this if the USA give 200 scholarships to the FATA students just like India giving to Afghan students everey year I hope that this will changes the situation in couple of years.If she just work on education sector and due to this USA will win the minds and hearts of the people .


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