Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, North America

US-PAKISTAN: Civilian Surge Expected in New Aid Plans

Jim Lobe*

WASHINGTON, Dec 17 2009 (IPS) - U.S. plans to substantially increase non-military aid to Pakistan to help curb Islamist extremism there will initially require a marked rise in the number of U.S.-based experts working in the country, according to a State Department “Strategy Report” released to Congress earlier this week.

The 20-page strategy, which earmarks half of the seven billion dollars Washington plans to spend over the next five years for “high impact, high visibility infrastructure programmes”, comes amid reports that elements of Pakistan’s powerful military are making it more difficult for U.S. officials to move around or even enter the country.

The State Department Thursday confirmed that hundreds of visas and visa renewals for U.S. officials and contractors have been held up by the Pakistani government in recent months.

“If this continues, it will indeed have an impact on our ability to do the work that we want to do to help the Pakistani people in terms of fighting terrorism, in terms of economic development, and a whole range of issues,” said spokesman Robert Wood, when asked about a front-page New York Times report that parts of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services are engaged in a “campaign to harass” U.S. diplomats and aid workers, among others.

“We are trying to work on these issues with the government of Pakistan,” Wood insisted. “They are well aware of [our] concerns.”

The Times article comes on the heels of other reports by that paper and the Washington Post this week that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, under pressure from the military, has rebuffed a direct appeal by U.S. President Barack Obama for the Pakistani military to launch an offensive against Afghan Taliban strongholds in North Waziristan, and will likely add to growing tensions between the two countries.


To make matters worse, Wednesday’s Supreme Court rejection of a U.S.-backed amnesty law that had made the Pakistani president immune from prosecution on long-pending corruption charges is almost certain to intensify popular demands for his resignation.

Zardari and some of his top aides, including his ministers of interior and defence, who also benefited from the amnesty law, are considered significantly more favourably disposed toward cooperating with Washington than any of his likely civilian successors, should he be forced out.

“We don’t know if he can hang on, or whether he’ll have any real authority if he does,” said one administration official. “But the latest developments aren’t helping.”

The expanded aid package, known as the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, was passed by Congress in early October. Its chief sponsors, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry and the Committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar, billed it as dramatic show of support for the 16-month-old civilian-led government.

Since the 9/11 al Qaeda attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Washington has provided some 11 billion dollars in aid to Pakistan, all but a fraction of which, however, went to the Pakistani military.

The Kerry-Lugar bill, which was strongly backed by Obama and his special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Amb. Richard Holbrooke, will triple non-military aid to 1.5 billion dollars a year, making Islamabad one of the world’s five biggest recipients of non-military U.S. aid.

The bill’s five-year duration, moreover, was designed to convey Washington’s long-term commitment to what the White House called a “strategic partnership…grounded in support for Pakistan’s democratic institutions and the Pakistani people.”

But, contrary to its intent, passage of the bill unleashed a major political storm in Pakistan. The opposition and the army, whipping up already-widespread anti-U.S. sentiment, charged that several of the conditions written into the bill violated the country’s sovereignty and dignity.

In a recent survey, only six percent of Pakistani respondents said they had a favourable opinion of the United States.

That survey, as well as other polls, show overwhelming opposition to Pakistan’s cooperation with the counterterrorism campaign in Afghanistan. This hostility has been fuelled by increased U.S. drone attacks over the past year against suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border and by well-publicised demands by visiting top U.S. officials that the Pakistani army itself dismantle Afghan Taliban networks in North Waziristan and Baluchistan.

Reports that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has used employees of the notorious Blackwater contractor to carry out counterterrorist operations inside Pakistan – strongly denied by Washington – and that the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy plans to almost double its staff of 500 have further inflamed public opinion.

These developments may well have contributed to the kinds of harassment – including frequent searches of U.S. diplomatic vehicles and visa delays – the Times reported Thursday.

The newly released aid strategy, which was first disclosed by the foreignpolicy.com’s “The Cable” blog Wednesday, suggests that the number of U.S. personnel coming to Pakistan will indeed increase, even if the strategy’s long-term intent is to steadily shift responsibility for implementing aid programmes financed by the Act to Pakistanis.

Washington will try to reduce reliance on “U.S.-based partners for education, health and other field programs that can be managed responsibly by Pakistani institutions,” it says.

However, it notes, “the ramp-up of large infrastructure programs will require a short-term increase in the need for architectural and engineering, monitoring and evaluation services, and other specialized U.S.-based experts.”

In addition, U.S. government staff will be expanded, not only in Islamabad, but also at U.S. consulates in Peshawar, Karachi, and Lahore, to oversee and audit aid programmes. According to the strategy, this is in part to ensure that the money is spent for the purposes for which it was intended and that none of the assistance is awarded to “terrorists or their supporters”.

Some 3.5 billion dollars will be devoted to high-impact, high-visibility infrastructure projects, of which two billion dollars will be earmarked for agriculture and one billion dollars to energy production, according to the report. It stressed the particular importance of such projects in the Pashtun-dominated FATA and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).

A total of two billion dollars will be dedicated to improving national and local government capacity and security and legal institutions.

Of the remaining two billion dollars, 1.5 billion dollars will be earmarked for improving access to and quality of education and health services, especially for girls and women; and 500 million dollars for providing emergency humanitarian relief after natural disasters or civil conflict, such as that which displaced hundreds of thousands of people from the Swat Valley and South Waziristan earlier this year.

Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani native who heads the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council here, praised the strategy, especially its emphasis on infrastructure development, which he called “very critical”.

“Especially in the FATA area, if they could get infrastructure connected to the rest of Pakistan, it will address much of the dissatisfaction there over time,” he said.

He predicted that obtaining visas for aid officials should not be difficult. “The difficulty is where the backgrounds of the individuals don’t necessarily correspond with the assignments for which they are being sent,” he said.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.

 
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