Aid and Conflict in Pakistan


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. assis-tance, 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 (IN-GOs) 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.
To make explicit, in policy and implementation, a re-orientation of aid from military to long-term support for civilian institutions, with a focus on democratic strengthening, capacity building, economic growth and civilian law enforcement
To the U.S. Government:
1.  Apply existing conditions on military assistance and refrain from penalising civilian assistance due to the Pakistani military’s actions and policies.
2.  Give USAID a greater say in devising foreign policy development goals and on key decisions with regard to implementation, including aid delivery and measures of impact.
3.  Give implementing partners significantly more ownership over USAID projects, including meaningful participation in designing programs, determining priorities and assessing realistic timetables and measures of performance.
4.  Reset the priorities of civilian assistance to focus on democratic strengthening, capacity building, economic growth and civilian law enforcement.
5.  Improve aid effectiveness and limit wastage by:
a) working, alongside Pakistani institutions, with local and international NGOs with a proven and credible track record in Pakistan;
b) assuring that investments in large infrastructure projects have strong local and national support so as to reduce the chance that their implementation will be delayed or blocked;
c) developing accountable management tools (by adapting lessons learned in democratic transition elsewhere) so as to increase the number of small grants that reach smaller community-based NGOs;
d) emphasising impact assessments that measure institutional strengthening and are not a simple numbers game focused on output;
e) supporting public-private partnerships, many already in existence, under which the national and/or provincial governments enter into long-term contracts for service delivery with local NGOs that have a good track record;
f) enhancing monitoring and oversight mechanisms by adopting a multi-tiered process incorporating local civil society organisations and national and provincial parliamentary public accounts and relevant standing committees; and
g) conditioning FATA aid on reform of the region’s corrupt and dysfunctional bureaucracy, including abolition of the FATA secretariat and the office of the political agent and transfer of their powers to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) secretariat, relevant provincial line ministries and district departments.
6.  Enhance the state’s ability to deliver services and manage projects by:
a) building the capacity of civil service training institutions by providing instructors and teaching materials on best international practices of public policy, fiscal policy, financial management, infrastructure development, human resource management, energy and agriculture; and
b) leveraging assistance to stimulate dialogue on vital fiscal, energy sector and education reforms.
7.  Refrain from efforts to publicise U.S. assistance that undermine rather than improve the U.S. image in Pakistan; and allow local implementing organisations more leeway in determining whether USAID branding would bolster or jeopardise individual programs, including assessments of the security of and community response to services and supplies carrying the USAID logo.
8.  Terminate any funding to influence the opinions of Pakistani clerics and end any support to the madrasa sector, shifting those resources to the public education system.
9.  Enhance rule of law programs by:
a) shifting the focus of security assistance to making Pakistan a strong criminal justice partner, through support for civilian law enforcement agencies and criminal prosecution;
b) supporting the modernisation and enhancing the counter-terrorism capacity of the police and civilian law enforcement agencies;
c) balancing funding to the police with a robust policy dialogue on modernising the penal code, criminal procedure code and evidence act;
d) urging national and provincial legislatures to pass promised police reforms to ensure operational autonomy and empower oversight bodies such as the national, provincial and district public safety commissions and the National Police Management Board;
e) refraining from providing any support to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, instead focusing resources on improving the formal justice system’s capacity to dispense justice; and
f) sending unambiguous signals to the military that illegal detentions, extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations in the name of counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency are unacceptable, by conditioning military aid on credible efforts by the leadership to hold any persons found committing such acts to account and by vigorously implementing the Leahy Amendment with respect to units alleged to have committed human rights abuse.
To facilitate implementation of projects, particularly by removing bureaucratic and military constraints on the activities of local and international NGOs
To the National and Provincial Governments of Pakistan:
10.  Send clear signals that they want to continue a relationship with international partners, by:
a) removing restrictions on NGOs and their staff and resuming registration of INGOs;
b) ending the 11th Army Corps’ right to approve no-objection certificates (NOCs) for NGOs and their staff;
c) directing the civil bureaucracy to reduce and ultimately phase out NOC requirements for INGOs; and
d) easing the process for foreign NGO workers to obtain residence and visit visas.
11.  Honour the spirit of the eighteenth amendment to the constitution by:
a) ending the role of the finance ministry’s Economic Affairs Division (EAD) to oversee and regulate foreign donors and transferring those responsibilities to the Council of Common Interests (CCI), which is constitutionally authorised to deal with foreign assistance; and
b) prioritising the devolution of resources to provincial governments and line departments, in accordance with the eighteenth amendment, so that resources match responsibilities.
12.  Develop in all four provinces coherent development strategies that include far greater government investment in health, education and social welfare.
13.  Initiate a national dialogue, under the CCI’s lead, about fiscal, energy and water sector reforms and present a reform package in parliament.
14.  Strengthen efforts to bring FATA into the Pakistani mainstream by abolishing the FATA secretariat and the office of the political agent and transferring their authority to the KPK secretariat, relevant provincial line ministries and district departments; implementing the August 2011 FATA reforms properly; and continuing the process of incorporating FATA into the federal constitutional framework, with full political, economic and human rights.

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