A strong civilian assistance strategy for Pakistan

Since passage of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act in October 2009 (aka the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, or KLB), the United States has worked with a variety of Pakistani partners to begin to put programs in place that address the Act’s objective — improving the living conditions of the people of Pakistan through sustainable economic development, ...

John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

Since passage of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act in October 2009 (aka the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, or KLB), the United States has worked with a variety of Pakistani partners to begin to put programs in place that address the Act's objective -- improving the living conditions of the people of Pakistan through sustainable economic development, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, and combating the extremism that threatens Pakistan and the United States.  For example, the United States is helping to complete and rehabilitate power facilities that will add over 500MW to Pakistan's power grid by the end of this year, easing power shortages that cripple the economy and reduce the quality of life for ordinary Pakistanis. A dramatic U.S. assistance program helped save the winter wheat crop -- averting a food crisis for millions of Pakistanis --after the devastating floods of 2010. Since the KLB Act was passed, the U.S. government has disbursed $1.7 billion of civilian assistance funds in Pakistan.

At the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the impact and transparency of our efforts in Pakistan and elsewhere is the core of our mission. We welcome the launch today of a report on assistance to Pakistan by the Center for Global Development (CGD) in Washington, DC. I am pleased to see that the report identifies several challenges that USAID has addressed in seeking to maximize the impact of U.S. development assistance in Pakistan. (Full disclosure, I was a proud member of the study group until I assumed my official position with USAID in June 2010).

Since passage of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act in October 2009 (aka the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, or KLB), the United States has worked with a variety of Pakistani partners to begin to put programs in place that address the Act’s objective — improving the living conditions of the people of Pakistan through sustainable economic development, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, and combating the extremism that threatens Pakistan and the United States.  For example, the United States is helping to complete and rehabilitate power facilities that will add over 500MW to Pakistan’s power grid by the end of this year, easing power shortages that cripple the economy and reduce the quality of life for ordinary Pakistanis. A dramatic U.S. assistance program helped save the winter wheat crop — averting a food crisis for millions of Pakistanis –after the devastating floods of 2010. Since the KLB Act was passed, the U.S. government has disbursed $1.7 billion of civilian assistance funds in Pakistan.

At the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the impact and transparency of our efforts in Pakistan and elsewhere is the core of our mission. We welcome the launch today of a report on assistance to Pakistan by the Center for Global Development (CGD) in Washington, DC. I am pleased to see that the report identifies several challenges that USAID has addressed in seeking to maximize the impact of U.S. development assistance in Pakistan. (Full disclosure, I was a proud member of the study group until I assumed my official position with USAID in June 2010).

Many of the recommendations in the CGD report, for example, to prioritize efforts to engage reformers and to encourage investment have already been implemented by USAID in Pakistan over the last year. Indeed, USAID has avoided a rush to spend in Pakistan, instead moving deliberately to assure that the programs meet Pakistani priorities, that adequate accountability and monitoring mechanisms are in place, and that program results match the level of resources being committed. 

The report highlights the importance of supporting job creation and private sector growth in Pakistan.  Perhaps one of the most distinctive features of USAID’s program in Pakistan is the priority it places on stimulating economic growth.  USAID is achieving this by working to help Pakistan solve its energy crisis, by completing dams, upgrading power plants, and seeking structural and policy reforms. USAID’s total energy program is designed to add 540 MW to Pakistan’s power grid by 2012, which will help ensure that critical businesses don’t have to shut down operations every day. We estimate that Pakistan is losing hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs each year from under-production of textiles alone.

USAID is also working to stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and raise incomes in the agriculture sector.  Pakistan’s agriculture sector provides 21 percent of GDP and currently employs 44 percent of the national labor force.  Work in this sector has become even more critical in the aftermath of unprecedented flooding that swept the country last year, which affected over 20 million Pakistanis. 

Following the floods, USAID provided emergency seeds, tools, and livestock to restored lands, ensuring continued livelihoods for 25 percent of the flood-affected population.  Due to the improved wheat seed varieties provided by USAID, preliminary average yields per acre are currently 60 percent higher than the traditional country-wide average.  Under current yield rates and market prices, the value of the 2011 spring wheat is expected to be approximately $190 million.

CGD’s report also points out that there is a need for USAID’s work to be better understood in Pakistan. This point is well-taken.  While communications is an integral part of everything USAID does — every USAID project comes with an associated communications strategy, nearly everything is branded, and USAID staff interact with Pakistani press on a weekly basis — we recognize the need to further improve understanding of our work in Pakistan.

The study group’s most valuable contribution is that it exposes the difficult path that lies between policy formulation and implementation. Working in Pakistan has many challenges — if it was easy, our contribution would not be so robust or urgent. The importance of getting development right in Pakistan has forced USAID to rethink the way it does business. For example, USAID is working to improve governance in every aspect of its work in Pakistan, so that our contributions and Pakistan’s democratic reforms will be durable. We are working closely with Pakistani government bodies at the national and provincial level to build their capacity and ensure they can manage U.S. assistance responsibly and effectively. Pakistani ministries are rigorously evaluated for their accounting and management capabilities, accountants and technical advisers are embedded where necessary, spending and implementation plans are jointly drawn, and third-party monitoring arrangements are specified. 

With the exception of a few years, USAID has been working in Pakistan continuously since our creation in the 1960s.  Pakistan’s Green Revolution, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), and Tarbela Dam are all part of USAID’s legacy.  With continued humility, patience, and clarity of mission, USAID looks forward to working with the Government of Pakistan and the Pakistani people to build on our past successes.

J Alexander Thier is Assistant to the Administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at USAID.

J Alexander Thier, the founder of Triple Helix, was the executive director of the Overseas Development Institute in London and was USAID’s chief of policy, planning, and learning from 2013 to 2015. He is writing in a personal capacity. Twitter: @Thieristan

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