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Pakistani prime minister: U.S. aid money goes through me

The U.S. government has agreed to give billions of new foreign aid money directly to Pakistani groups and not through American organizations such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani. Since the U.S. Congress appropriated the first $1.5 billion of the new aid, known as the ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. government has agreed to give billions of new foreign aid money directly to Pakistani groups and not through American organizations such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to Pakistan's Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Since the U.S. Congress appropriated the first $1.5 billion of the new aid, known as the Kerry-Lugar aid bill, there has been a quiet struggle in Washington between those who want to give the money directly to Pakistani groups and those who want the aid to go through Western organizations first. Leading the former camp is Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, and on the other side are various USAID contractors and officials and lawmakers such as Sens. John Kerry and Richard Lugar.

Proponents of giving the money directly to Pakistani groups argue it will cut down on overhead and empower Pakistani civil society, allowing the funds to have the most impact. Detractors worry that a lack of oversight and accountability in Pakistan will result in the money being lost to corruption or steered in directions not intended by the legislation.

The U.S. government has agreed to give billions of new foreign aid money directly to Pakistani groups and not through American organizations such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Since the U.S. Congress appropriated the first $1.5 billion of the new aid, known as the Kerry-Lugar aid bill, there has been a quiet struggle in Washington between those who want to give the money directly to Pakistani groups and those who want the aid to go through Western organizations first. Leading the former camp is Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, and on the other side are various USAID contractors and officials and lawmakers such as Sens. John Kerry and Richard Lugar.

Proponents of giving the money directly to Pakistani groups argue it will cut down on overhead and empower Pakistani civil society, allowing the funds to have the most impact. Detractors worry that a lack of oversight and accountability in Pakistan will result in the money being lost to corruption or steered in directions not intended by the legislation.

Regardless, Gilani said, the decision has been made. "We have convinced the government of the United States that the money should be given directly to the Pakistani organizations," he told a group of reporters during a Monday lunch at Washington’s Four Seasons Hotel. Gilani is in town for the Nuclear Security Summit and met with President Obama Sunday.

When pressed on the issue of oversight and accountability, Gilani said that Pakistani ministries already have sufficient mechanisms in place to make sure the money is well spent and the oversight would come from Pakistan’s parliament, which he leads.

As for how they plan to spend the dough, which will total $7.5 billion if continued for all five years, he said, "We have already identified areas … the biggest challenge is energy."

Of course, there is no guarantee Congress will appropriate the funds next year, and many lawmakers have said they want to see strong, external oversight mechanisms. Some accountability measures are already included in the legislation, but lawmakers will be seeking additional assurances.

Many in the U.S. foreign aid community are upset with Holbrooke for trying to take the funds out their control, arguing that they already have the infrastructure in place to best disperse the funds. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah are traveling to Pakistan separately this week.

Pakistan’s energy woes were a main focus for Gilani and also a main topic in his meeting with Obama, as well as the recent U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue that the State Department hosted two weeks ago. "Pakistan expects non-discrimination regarding a civil-nuclear deal with Islamabad," Gilani said.

That civil-nuclear deal is extremely unlikely, at least in the near term.

Tying the issue back to the summit, Gilani said he also wants a non-discriminatory policy regarding nuclear energy as a whole. When asked if that included Iran, he said, "Not really."

Pakistan has been resisting progress toward a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, part of President Obama’s nuclear agenda, but Gilani declined to endorse that idea, saying that’s not what was on the table now.

Gilani also said he would not allow U.S. officials to interview notorious Pakistani nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan, who lives under limited confinement in a sort of house arrest.

Following the lunch, Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that no progress was made in the Obama meeting toward brokering a cooling of tensions between India and Pakistan, although he said more dialogue is needed.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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