A Possible Lesson on the Efficacy of Foreign Aid in Promoting Security

“U.S. aid to Pakistan is not a reward for good behavior,” says Nancy [Birdsall]. “We have to think about aid as an investment in the future of U.S. security. If you keep in mind the proposed $1.5 billion a year represents less than what we spend in Afghanistan in a week, than you get the point.” Center for Global Development

What seems more accurate is: “US aid to Pakistan is designed as an investment for Pakistani elites in ‘good behavior’.” US development interest in Pakistan is directed by the events of the past five years in which the Pakistani Taliban grew and became more active, and the US initiated covert operations and routine drone bombings. The $1.5 billion/year showing up for Pakistan may or may not be an investment, but it is certainly aimed to smooth the agitation of US military activity. Yet, it doesn’t seem like the US government considers the aid an investment.

That it is so little by comparison to Afghanistan makes it look like it is exactly a bribe, and not, in fact, an investment in security unless US policymakers are making the argument Pakistan is of far less strategic importance than Afghanistan, but I haven’t read about anyone making that argument. In the halls of the State Department, this money is all about rewarding good behavior for Pakistani elites.

That the now deceased Ambassador Holbrooke, with the blessing of Secretary Clinton, pushed for Pakistani aid to be given to Pakistani entities for programming in a marked departure from traditional aid delivery through US firms and agencies, was just asking for the money to be a bribe for good local elite behavior through systematically weakening oversight.  Pakistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and everybody knows it. It’s not exactly a place you go to and plan to make it hard to keep track of your money – if you’re intending to keep track of the money at all. If devolution of aid implementation in Pakistan was part of a broader move, then the argument of US movers and shakers in Pakistan would make sense. However, US aid everywhere else follows the normal system because there is no alternative oversight system in place.

The aid is designed as a bribe, a reward for good behavior. The aid can also be a good investment for mitigating anti-American sentiment, as a secondary objective and if most of the money is targeted at the right projects, some development might actually get done.

Even if this happens, it’s an ambitious step to changing Pakistan behavior to US security interests through aid. (Perhaps terming it the more realistic ‘behavior consistency’ – through aid would be better, as this is more about stopping the bleeding of local support done by our military interventions.) But such efforts seem less promising and more daunting, when reading this Provincial Reconstruction Team evaluation report Assessing the Impacts of Development Cooperation in North East Afghanistan 2005-2009, completed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The report surveyed 2,000 respondents in 80 villages in northern Afghanistan, and was built on a 2007 study. The survey team spent 14 months analyzing questionnaires and going back for qualitative interviews. Its results: Aid positively influences attitudes towards peace building missions, but only when there’s a perception of security. Security perception is independent of aid, aid has no impact on how foreign forces are perceived, and increasingly, local Afghans believe foreign aid initiatives are subverting Islam and traditional values.

This is worrying for US efforts in Pakistan. Between the OBL raid, US drone bombings, and routine Taliban and al-Qaeda bombings, the threat perception for Pakistanis must be high, even if actual security remains high. If rural Afghanistan is like rural northwest Pakistan, aid efforts there won’t help promote US security in the population, and might even reinforce beliefs that foreign aid is seeking to subvert their culture. Unless the Western media is entirely inaccurate, that seems to be what Pakistanis protest already.

Worrying stuff.

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