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USAID cuts funding for Elmo on Pakistan TV

The US cut $20 million for Pakistani version of Sesame Street. USAID alleges fraud against the show's producers, but the cutbacks come as the US is pulling back foreign aid.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / June 6, 2012

Pakistan’s version of Sesame Street – complete with an Elmo who squeals in Urdu – is facing a cutback in support from USAID, America’s Agency for International Development.

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Pakistan’s version of Sesame Street – complete with an Elmo who squeals in Urdu – is facing a cutback in support from USAID, America’s Agency for International Development.

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The cutbacks come amid allegations of fraud by the Lahore-based theater group that produces the children’s show, the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, but it also comes at a time when the US-Pakistani relationship is strained, and when the US government is cutting back dramatically on foreign aid worldwide.

USAID allocated $20 million for the production of Sim Sim Hamara (which means “Our Street” in Urdu), and $6.7 million of that was used to produce the first season, which premiered in 2011. The remainder of the contract has been terminated, pending the results of an investigation into the fraud charges.

"We did launch an investigation into the allegations. We also sent the theater workshop a letter that terminates the project agreement," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a news briefing in Washington on June 5. "No one is questioning, obviously, the value and positive impact of this kind of programming for children. But this is about allegations of corruption."

Faizaan Peerzada, Rafi Peer’s chief operating officer, denied the fraud charges, saying in a statement, “Rafi Peer is proud of its association with the project and the quality of children’s educational television programming created within Pakistan as a result.”

Whatever the ultimate result of the investigation, the shutdown of funds into children’s broadcasting in Pakistan come at an unfortunate time in the US-Pakistani relationship.

NATO airstrikes and US special forces raids on Pakistani territory have strained Pakistani patience with the US-led war on terror, and Pakistan has shut off NATO’s use of Pakistani roads and ports to resupply its troops in Afghanistan. The US, meanwhile, has grown increasingly frustrated with what it sees as signs of either Pakistani collusion with militant groups such as the Taliban, or incompetence in bringing them under control.

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