At Wednesday afternoon’s release event for the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) new report, Beyond Bullets and Bombs: Fixing the U.S. Approach to Development in Pakistan, a consistent theme was present in the discussion: Change in Pakistan can only come from within, and if US development assistance is going to be effective, it must support Pakistan’s domestic reformers and invest in building the nation’s domestic capacity.
The reports authors called on Congress to embrace three guiding principles when considering US aid to Pakistan: Humility, patience, and clarity of mission. Current aid policy, the authors found, too often lacks clearly defined or unrealistic goals. As the war in Afghanistan has taken center stage, development in Pakistan became seen as a tool to effect short-term security and diplomacy goals rather than a long-term investment in the economic and political stability of the fledgling democracy.
CGD Project Director Molly Kinder noted that this was a misguided and ultimately self-defeating approach to development in Pakistan. Rather than attempting to use aid as a quid pro quo, she said, US development assistance should be implemented in a way that will “unleash the power of Pakistan’s private sector.” To that end, the authors offer the following five recommends for revising US aid strategy:
1. Let Pakistani products compete in US markets.
2. Actively encourage domestic and foreign private investment.
3. Target aid for long-term impact and beware of unintended consequences.
4. Finance what is already working.
5. Support and engage with Pakistan’s reformers.
Speaking at the event, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, emphasized that the role of aid should be that of a catalyst, sparking innovation and investment in Pakistan’s domestic human and natural resources. The Pakistani Ambassador recounted the story of the Kinnow orange – the most popular citrus fruit in Pakistan – which was brought to Pakistan from California as part of a development program in the 1960s. As the Ambassador explained, the US provided the seeds and the saplings, and Pakistanis grew the trees, tended the groves, and ate the fruit.
Far from a short-term “hearts and minds” project, the Kinnow story represents an alternative way of approaching civilian development that involves American assistance at laying the foundation for domestic production. Similiarly, the Ambassador noted that Institute of Business Administration in Karachi and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) were both founded with investments from the US. Today, each of these institutions represents the excellence of Pakistani education.
In order to return to this model of development, the Ambassador explained, we need to change the way both countries think of aid. Too often, the US-Pakistan relationship is reduced to cliches designed to serve domestic politics. In the US, aid to Pakistan is often seen as something akin to a purchase, causing Americans to ask why Pakistanis are not delivering. In Pakistan, US aid is often the subject of great resentment, with Pakistanis demanding the government “break the begging bowl” and refuse American assistance.
According to Ambassador Haqqani, US and Pakistani leaders need to change the discussion to one that focuses on the US providing support for reforms defined and implemented from within Pakistan. To be successful, aid must be viewed as neither a bribe nor alms, but as an investment in developing domestic capacity. Like the seed for the Kinnow orange or the founding of LUMS, successful development operates as a catalyst to unlock the latent potential in Pakistanis themselves. What Americans receive in return for their investment is the long-term security and stability of a healthy and prosperous partner.
Writing in USA Today last weekend, Pakistani parliamentarian Farahnaz Ispahani referred to the Marshall Plan after World War II in which the US invested heavily in Europe with the understanding that political stability and economic self-sufficiency were the best bulwark against radicalization.
At the onset of the Cold War, the U.S. understood that political stability in vulnerable countries like France, Italy and Greece was intrinsically linked to the viability of their economies. President Truman advanced the European Recovery Plan (the Marshall Plan) that brilliantly operationalized this thesis, and by doing so saved Western Europe from communism. The same construct should be applied to Pakistan as we jointly work toward the defeat of the terrorist menace and the rebuilding of a peaceful and stable South and Central Asia.
Each of the speakers at Wednesday’s event agreed on a core point – US aid can serve an important role in improving stability and security in Pakistan if implemented correctly. This means abandoning misguided views of aid as a tool of US leverage in Pakistan and working together as partners, not patrons, to help Pakistan achieve success.