Posts Tagged ‘US’

Handwaving on Aid: Response to Nancy Birdsall

September 21, 2012

By Anjum Altaf

I am happy to engage in a debate with the Center for Global Development on US aid to Pakistan. However, for me the issue is not aid to Pakistan or aid in general but the analytical validity of CGD’s recent reports. I argued that CGD’s 2011 report was advocacy, not analysis and based on a reading of a summary of the 2012 report I concluded it seemed no different.

CGD has responded to my criticism of the latter but has, in what I consider a handwaving style, ignored my central concern and resorted to diversionary arguments to mount a defense. Here, I aim to show why CGD’s case remains a weak one. (more…)

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Aid as Religion

August 16, 2012

By Anjum Altaf

Aid has become the new religion. That is the only conclusion to be drawn from the authors’ summary of a new report on aid to Pakistan from the Center for Global Development (Making KLB Effective, Dawn, August 12, 2012). There are certain fundamental presumptions to be accepted on faith followed by exhortations to be more faithful and to work harder. Inshallah everything will work out fine since God (in this case the US) helps those who help themselves. Conspicuous by its absence is any semblance of doubt or uncertainty, there is no challenging the assumptions, there is no assessment of experience, there is no asking of questions. Just a few regrets before Muslim and Christian soldiers march happily onwards hand in hand.

The authors are quite candid about the central premise of their report: “one of its underlying assumptions is that US-Pakistan development cooperation should continue.”  (more…)

Pak-US Relations: Conflicting Perspectives

December 11, 2011

By Kabir Altaf

The incident last week at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in which NATO air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers has brought Pakistan-US relations to their lowest ebb since the OBL raid. The public reaction in both countries has revealed the extent of the mistrust between the supposed allies. The American public feels that since the US government gives Pakistan so much aid, it is ungrateful of the Pakistani government to block NATO’s supplies or ask the US to vacate airbases in the country.  Americans are also angered by reports of Pakistan’s alleged double-dealing and at best grudging cooperation with Washington.  The Pakistani public, on the other hand, is angered by what they see as violations of their country’s sovereignty. They also feel that fighting “America’s war” has caused a lot of blowback in their country, leading to the deaths of thousands of innocents at the hand of insurgents.

Reading the newspapers from both sides, one gets a sense of how different the narrative is in each country. The articles in The New York Times are accompanied by images of groups of bearded men burning the American flag or effigies of President Obama.  (more…)

Pakistan’s Problems: More Hypotheses

July 1, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

Christopher Hitchens had offered a hypothesis in Vanity Fair that Pakistan’s problems stemmed from deep-rooted sexual repression. The evidence for this was the occurrence of honor killings, and the consequence other morbid symptoms that transformed the country into one that was “completely humorless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred.”

Even if one were to accept the broad characterization as correct, it is difficult to take the hypothesis itself seriously. In my response, I had assumed that just a cursory consideration of the fact that honor killings occurred in India as well would have been enough to discredit the hypothesis because none of the morbid consequences are to be observed in India. (more…)

US Aid to Pakistan: Response to CGD

June 25, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

My critique of the Center for Global Development’s report on US aid to Pakistan has elicited a comment from the authors. I appreciate their willingness to engage in a discussion and reproduce their comment in full before offering my own reactions to explain why I remain unconvinced by their arguments.

The most scathing review so far of our recent report Beyond Bullets and Bombs: Fixing the U.S. Approach to Development in Pakistan, comes from Anjum Altaf, a Pakistani academic who represents this viewpoint well. (more…)

Them Versus Us

May 16, 2009

The first part of this thought experiment was intended to test if my perception of the ‘Other’ was a reflection of nothing more than my own prejudices. It had me revisit repeatedly the same set of objects arranged in different ways to see how my reactions varied in response to the arrangements.

In the second part of the experiment I want to see the picture from the other end. This time I imagine myself to be a member of the set of objects and try to sense how I would feel in the various scenarios.

The setting is still the same – a classroom of children being visited by an outsider. (more…)

Us Versus Them

May 13, 2009

I am perplexed by the Us versus Them phenomenon. Try as I might, I have not been able to explain why it has such a powerful hold on so many of us.

Let me try and work through it once again using a thought experiment. I would like you to stay with me as I do and to give me your feedback at the end.

I imagine that I am invited to speak to a class of high school students in a city that I have never visited before.

I arrive at the school and walk through a corridor into the class. In front to me I find 60 students of both genders wearing the school uniform and no other marks of identification seated in random order. (more…)

Should Pakistan Receive More Foreign Aid?

September 7, 2008

By Anjum Altaf

As Chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden has been a strong advocate of increased developmental assistance for Pakistan. Therefore, if he becomes the Vice President in November, the prospects of a significant jump in the quantum of American aid to Pakistan would grow considerably. Would this be a good idea?

The question is good idea for whom? Who would be the beneficiary of this assistance?

Any such increase would clearly ignore the evidence that much past aid to Pakistan has been wasted because there are no tangible development outcomes to be seen. This is not to say that there have no beneficiaries of the transfer of funds. An investigative report would provide fascinating stories about where all the money has gone.

Between 1950 and 2000, donor assistance to Pakistan has been of the order of $60 billion. Yet, the country’s social indicators are languishing at the bottom end of the list of countries. The health system is sick; the infant mortality rate per 1000 live births in 2007 was 80 compared to 12 in Sri Lanka. Education is in shambles with half the population still illiterate, an increasing number having to turn to madrassas, and the rest receiving indoctrination instead of an education. No wonder, religious and social intolerance is rising rapidly.

Hopes that new aid would be used better are misplaced without explaining what has changed that would lead to more effective utilization. The poor use is often blamed on rampant corruption and weak governance. These have deteriorated over the years, not improved. Even otherwise, these are lame explanations that reflect poorly on the donors. These constraints are well-known before the assistance is programmed and should be built into the design of aid-assisted projects. The fact that they are not suggests that either the donors are really naïve or they have a hidden agenda. Unfortunately, the average citizen in Pakistan has by now become convinced of the latter.

The remedy is not to stop all development assistance to Pakistan but to design it in a way that good outcomes become possible. The Pakistani situation seems immensely complex from afar causing well-intentioned people to think they could never understand its workings. There is, however, a simple way to understand why outcomes of development assistance are so poor in Pakistan. A useful analogy is with the subprime mortgage crisis in the US. It is possible at times for the interests of various players to be aligned in such a way that no one has an incentive to call a halt to the madness at the same time as the regulatory mechanism fails to do its job. Unlike the US, public response mechanisms are so weak in Pakistan that even failures of huge magnitude go unquestioned; people just adapt to their fate and no one acts on their behalf to determine what happened to the funds received in the name of the people of Pakistan.

Let us look at the set of incentives in place. US governments are interested in moving money to Pakistan when they believe their strategic interests are at stake, Pakistani governments are more than happy to receive it, the US Agency for International Development is rewarded for disbursing funds quickly through the pipeline, and private US contractors have an easy source of income. Pakistani NGOs that are supposed to watch out for the citizens are unable to resist the lure of big money; most of them end up as subcontractors on the major projects. Despite the lack of results on the ground, not one of these players has shown an interest in stopping to take a second look. All of them are beneficiaries and evaluators at the same time. No wonder they do not wish to rock the boat or alter the status quo.

The only parties who gain nothing from this cycling of money are unable to exert any meaningful influence on the process or evaluate it in any way. The US taxpayer is not well served by the Government Accountability Office whose primary concern seems only to ensure that the disbursement of funds follows proper procedures. And the Pakistani citizen is not consulted at all; it would be hard to find one who knows what is being done in his or her name. There is not even an easily understood term for Millennium Development Goals in the local languages.

For aid to become effective a number of design and process changes are needed. First, nationwide programs need to be replaced by geographically delimited projects whose deliverables are clearly specified. Second, different donors should be placed in a competitive framework executing similar projects in different locations. Third, beneficiary populations have to be involved and represented by citizens’ committees that are provided information about budgets and key milestones. Fourth, media representatives need to become engaged to keep a scorecard and to regularly disseminate information about the progress so that corrective actions can be taken in time.

Some of these elements, consciously or by happenstance, were part of the design of the immensely successful Indian Institutes of Technology that have contributed so much talent to Silicon Valley and are now fuelling the software boom in India. In the 1950s different donors were assigned the tasks of funding, implementing and nurturing each of the various IITs and the resultant competition for prestige contributed greatly to the success of the outcomes.

Intelligent design and credible accountability are the keys to effective utilization of aid to Pakistan. Without these US taxpayer money would continue to be poured down a dark and bottomless hole furthering even more corruption, cynicism and hostility in Pakistan.

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