Looking ahead, the United States should keep the promise it made to help build a strong and stable state and an accountable, democratic government in Pakistan. This is in the interests of Americans as well as the people of Pakistan. Yet in order to do this effectively, and in a manner that serves Pakistan’s long-term development prospects, the United States needs to significantly alter its approach.
There are five steps Washington can take to make a difference:
1. Keep the economic and development policy conversation going. Independent of the size or scope of its aid program, the U.S. government should explicitly commit to maintaining policy engagement at the federal and provincial levels on Pakistan’s long-run economic and social development challenges. Although the U.S. government faces enormous difficulty spending aid money well in Pakistan, it does have a significant role and an obvious long-term interest in working closely with the technocratic and political leadership in Pakistan on the issues of significance to the country’s stability and prosperity.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
2. Avoid the rush: extend the deadline for spending down Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds. Given the large amount of unobligated funds for Pakistan, the inadequacies of the aid-delivery machinery, and the acute implementation challenges, Congress and the administration should agree on a scaled-back program of development assistance for Pakistan for fiscal year 2013 and potentially beyond. The United States should adhere to the commitment to spend $7.5 billion on civilian programs, but it should extend the time horizon from five to ten years.
3. Focus on what the United States can do best. Washington should provide direct bilateral assistance only in those areas where it has a clear comparative advantage. This would include (for starters) a focus on higher education, support for innovation and civil society, and improvements to generation capacity and efficient distribution in the energy sector. In some cases, the amount of money spent might be small and the real contribution will involve technical assistance and policy dialogue. The United States should also rebalance its portfolio and look to areas outside of traditional development assistance that may help Pakistan. In fact, non-aid instruments that promote trade and investment, such as using the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to increase small business lending, may be the best assistance the United States can offer in Pakistan.
4. Channel more U.S. aid dollars through other donors. The United States can finance development assistance in Pakistan without being a direct provider of assistance through its own delivery systems. Going forward, the United States must recalibrate its program to ensure that more U.S. aid money can be delivered by other donors. For instance, the administration should take steps now to work with the Congress to channel more of the aid in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill through trust funds at the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Washington should also make it easier to take advantage of the strengths of other donors like the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, which faces fewer security and bureaucratic restrictions in working with provincial-level public and private sector partners.
5. Prioritize transparency, not branding and logos. The U.S. government should be far less concerned with branding and much more focused on improving the transparency of U.S. development efforts. A fixation with branding aid projects shifts the U.S. government’s objective away from improving long-term development outcomes toward making sure the United States gets credit, which can be counterproductive. Requiring that all U.S.-financed projects clearly give credit to the United States paradoxically ensures that almost none will.
America’s long-term development partnership with the civilian government in Pakistan warrants a serious new effort to set it on course, but only if these conceptual, strategic, and execution challenges can be tackled effectively. To do so, the United States needs to be clear about its objectives, humble about its ability to foster sustainable progress, and patient in its efforts to help build a more effective state and expand economic opportunities over the long haul.
Milan Vaishnav is an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment. He is also the 2011–2012 postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Global Development, where he helps direct the Center’s initiative on U.S. Development Strategy in Pakistan.
This article was originally published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.