Aid to Pakistan: $2.6 billion spent, little ability to show it
Anti-US sentiments and foreign policy squabbles are thwarting good US public relations from reaching turbulent, poor border regions of Pakistan.
Khalil Afridi recently survived a fatal attack by militants when a hand grenade was hurled at him. “They want me to quit development work, because of my association with Western donors,” he says.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
He has been a social worker in Khyber Agency, an area bordering Afghanistan through which supply routes run, for the past eight years and is currently working on water projects with the US Agency for International Development (USAID). But he says it’s too dangerous to tell this to locals. Instead, he says, “We tell people it’s the Pakistani government funding these projects.”
Anti-US sentiments and foreign policy squabbles are thwarting good US public relations from reaching turbulent, poor border regions of Pakistan. They are also putting the lives of aid workers there at risk.
Like Mr. Afridi and many others, Shahzad Afridi (not related) has also worked for projects funded by USAID in Khyber Agency and is careful about making sure he does not mention USAID. “The militants think we are spies for the West, and they have threatened me to stop,” he explains.
USAID does not have any offices in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) but operates out of Peshawar, a settled area adjacent to the tribal areas. Officials here recognize the threats and say security is one of the biggest challenges to their aid work, so they've found a small way to work around it.
“It is the requirement of US government to brand its aid, but we are giving waivers to projects undertaken in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, because if they put up our logos etc, it can be life threatening,” says Mehdi Ali Khan, the communication specialist for USAID here.
Another official says USAID in Pakistan would prefer to be more transparent. Not only would it help to show that money is being put to good use, but it could build good will toward the US.
“We [would] like to get credit but it’s a complex situation. There is a war in Afghanistan. There are areas under conflict in Pakistan.... This is the reality,” he says wishing not to be named since he is not authorized to speak to the media. The official said USAID was putting up signboards that say the project is USAID funded in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in northwest Pakistan, but in areas like FATA, it just wasn’t possible.
The trouble with branding
Some in the region criticize USAID’s approach.
Shad Begum, who received the International Women of Courage Award by the US State Department for her social work in the area, was threatened by the Taliban for working for the US government, even after asking the press in the area not to cover her award in the media for her safety.
“USAID is more focused towards highlighting their name than focusing on development on many of the projects on which I worked with them,” she says. She developed a campaign recently on capacity building and social rights awareness that involved distributing fliers and putting up banners. But because USAID helped fund it, the organization required that its logo be visible on all materials she handed out, she says.
Ms. Begum says she had to argue with USAID over the size of the logo and the American flag. “People hate the Americans in this region because of their foreign policy,” she says. Displaying the US flag, on a school, a new road, or other infrastructure project fuels anti-US sentiment and, worse, can put needed social projects in jeopardy.