Aid and Conflict in Pakistan
Aid and Conflict in Pakistan
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 227 / Asia

Aid and Conflict in Pakistan

Despite many billions of dollars, international assistance to Pakistan, particularly from the U.S., its largest donor, is neither improving the government’s performance against jihadi groups nor stabilising its nascent democracy.

Executive Summary

International, particularly U.S., military and civilian aid has failed to improve Pakistan’s performance against jihadi groups operating on its soil or to help stabilise its nascent democracy. Lopsided focus on security aid after the 11 September 2001 attacks has not delivered counter-terrorism dividends, but entrenched the military’s control over state institutions and policy, delaying reforms and aggravating Pakistani public perceptions that the U.S. is only interested in investing in a security client. Almost two-thirds of U.S. funding since 2002 ($15.8 billion) has been security-related, double the $7.8 billion of economic aid. Under an elected government, and with civilian aid levels at their highest in decades, the U.S. and other donors can still play a major part in improving service delivery, supporting key reforms and strengthening a fragile political transition vital to internal and regional stability. Re-orientation of funding from military security purposes to long-term democracy and capacity building support is the best way to guarantee the West’s and Pakistan’s long-term interests in a dangerous region. But aid policies must be better targeted, designed and executed.

Historically, Pakistan’s aid experience has been characterised by steep increases and sudden cut-offs around specific geo-strategic events, such as the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan during the 1980s. That experience still informs Pakistani perceptions of U.S. assistance. As the end of 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan approaches, U.S. relations with the military are at an all-time low because of Afghan safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, as well as the closure of the NATO pipeline after the November 2011 attack on a Pakistani border post in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Many Pakistani stakeholders fear that the U.S. – responding to the military’s actions and policies – will again abandon its partnership with the people, and the civilian aid pipeline will be cut off.

These concerns come less than three years after the U.S. Congress passed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act in October 2009, authorising a tripling of civilian assistance to $7.5 billion over five years. The bill’s underlying goal, supported by the Obama administration, was to broaden engagement beyond a narrow relationship with the military in order to support civilian institutions and democracy. But Islamabad and Washington will have to overcome the policy divide that has defined their relationship particularly since the 2 May 2011 U.S. raid that led to the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The goal to provide $1.5 billion annually for five years has fallen short by $414 million in fiscal year (FY) 2011 and an estimated $500 million in FY2012. Instead of scaling up its operations in Pakistan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is trying to reduce expectations, programs and projects. As relations deteriorate, the Pakistani military, with the civilian bureaucracy’s support, has intensified oversight of and interference in aid delivery. Implementing partners, particularly international NGOs, face constant harassment, threats of closure and visa delays and refusals for staff. This has severely impacted all aspects of their operations, from hiring to program implementation. Strained bilateral relations have hampered aid delivery even in areas outside the military’s control. Most prominently, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N)-led Punjab government has refused to accept U.S. assistance, suspending government-to-government programs in Pakistan’s largest province.

Evolving security threats, in particular kidnappings-for-ransom, have further hampered activities and staff movements, compelling some international organisations to recall staff and scale down and in some cases close operations. In the most prominent case, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), after the beheading of a kidnapped expatriate worker in Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta, closed offices in Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi.

The space for USAID and the international NGOs (INGOs) and Pakistani NGOs it funds is also shrinking as a result of the Obama administration’s aid policy. These organisations have limited input into program designs and strategies, and their work is constrained by an abundance of rules, regulations and reporting requirements. The decision to channel significantly more funding through Pakistani government institutions is understandable, since building the state’s capacity to deliver is vital to democratic transition. So, too, is the effort to go directly to local NGOs. However, the U.S. must partner with a broader range of NGOs that have proven, credible records but lack a presence in Islamabad or the provincial capitals. The U.S. should also consider extending successful INGO-led programs. Maintaining a balance and finding ways to utilise INGO expertise is vital to fill in gaps in local capacity and would also be useful in helping train and support local government and non-governmental organisations with limited capacity. As that capacity develops, INGOs should be incrementally phased out and their projects turned over to government institutions and local NGOs.

The U.S. administration’s focus on large, “signature” infrastructure projects as the top priority of its civilian assistance program has similarly limited USAID’s options. The policy is based less on development goals than a bid to win over the Pakistani public through projects that have high visibility and leave an enduring legacy. It depends, however, on a sluggish bureaucracy characterised by opaque, dysfunctional public procurement processes, official corruption and lack of accountability. As a result, appropriated funds get stuck in the pipeline, with USAID consequently coming under intense pressure from Congress to disburse large, unspent funds elsewhere, which risks greater waste. While Pakistan desperately needs water, electricity, roads and telecommunications, projects have to be well designed and should be balanced with support for democratic strengthening, capacity building, public education and civilian law enforcement.

Since building state capacity is vital to the democratic transition, the U.S. and other international partners should not reduce their measures of impact to a bricks and mortars game, but instead focus on improving the state’s ability to deliver not just more but better quality services. In formulating policy with major ramifications for aid delivery, they should also consult key stakeholders, including local civil society organisations and Pakistani and international NGOs with a solid track record, as well as the national and provincial legislatures.

Congress has rightly expressed strong disapproval of some of the Pakistan military’s actions. It has placed conditions on security-related assistance in existing and proposed legislation, requiring the secretary of state’s certification that the military does not subvert political and judicial processes, has ceased support to extremist groups and brings personnel responsible for human rights violations to account. Unfortunately, the administration has yet to apply such conditions rigorously. Its ability to rubber-stamp certifications in the future may, however, be limited given increasing Congressional scrutiny. It would be well served to follow the legislature’s lead by rigorously applying restrictions on military aid. Rather than throwing good money after bad in an attempt to cajole an unreliable partner into cooperating, it should shift the focus of its counter-terrorism strategy to civilian law enforcement agencies, which could deliver significant results if properly authorised and equipped by the civilian government.

For its part, Congress should not allow frustrations with the Pakistani military to affect either civilian assistance or more general engagement with the elected government and representative institutions. It should realise that willingness to spend money on Pakistan on the one hand but a reluctance to explore creative alternatives to existing programs on the other sends confused signals to the Pakistani as well as American publics. It also limits results. Civilian aid levels are still high, despite bilateral tensions, but if programming is guided by short-term security goals, the intended beneficiaries are likely to view the U.S. as at best oblivious and at worst hostile to their needs. Strengthening democratic institutions should not be seen solely as a political goal, but also as the means to stabilise a fragile country, addressing development priorities and shoring up peace in a conflict-prone region.

Islamabad/Brussels, 27 June 2012

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