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The wait is finally over: President Obama has announced Senator John Kerry’s (D-MA) nomination as the next Secretary of State.  Given Senator Kerry’s leading role in advocating a smarter approach towards development in Pakistan, his appointment could be a game-changer for the US’ work in the country.

However his appointment also means that the three driving forces behind the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (more commonly known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman, or KLB, legislation) will be missing in the 113th Congress.  Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) were not reelected, amidst a Congress that has become increasingly critical of aid to Pakistan (though unsuccessful in efforts to cut all aid there).  Furthermore Marc Grossman, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), recently stepped down from his post and it is unclear if his vacancy will be filled.

How will all these changes affect US efforts to bolster development in Pakistan?  A look at the track records of the SRAP office and the KLB legislation provide some insight into the answer.

Let’s start with the Special Representative.  There is no doubt that this office tackles incredibly challenging work: maintaining fragile diplomatic relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan, preparing for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by 2014, monitoring the security threat posed by al-Qaeda and other terrorists, preparing for the tests of democracy in upcoming elections (2013 for Pakistan, 2014 for Afghanistan), and myriad other challenges in the region.  By all accounts, including Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman’s, Ambassador Grossman worked tirelessly to put our relationship with Pakistan back on solid footing.

But with competing priorities, it is unclear whether this office best serves a development agenda.  As my colleagues wrote in CGD’s 2011 report on the US approach to development in Pakistan, the SRAP early on provided high-level leadership and an institutional focal point for this agenda.  However over the years the “Af-Pak construct” – which was meant to create geographic and functional integration across government agencies – had three unfortunate effects on US development strategy in Pakistan:

  • The issues of security and Afghanistan dominated policy discussions in Washington, at the expense of trade, investment, and aid to Pakistan
  • The pressing demands of Defense and Diplomacy rendered development a lower-case afterthought in the three D’s
  • The integrated structure blurred lines of authority, causing confusion on who in Washington was responsible for developing a development strategy (Deputy Secretary Tom Nides? Ambassador Grossman? USAID Administrator Raj Shah?), and what U.S. official in Pakistan is charged with implementing it

CGD’s recent report card assessing US development work in Pakistan gave poor grades on ‘Clarify the Mission’ and ‘Name a Leader’ – goals that have been confused by the existence of the Special Representative’s office.  If the SRAP remains a fixture of the next administration (not a foregone conclusion, given rumors it may be merged back into the Bureau of South and Central Asia), the administration needs to finally put some single person in charge of and accountable for the US development mission.  That needs to happen soon, and that person must communicate early and often with the new Congress.

Speaking of Congress, the jury is still out on whether KLB will be deemed a success.  But three years into the legislation’s five year lifespan disbursements are, for good reasons, well short of ambitious initial expectations. KLB’s intention was to put security and development on two separate tracks, insulating the development agenda from unpredictable geopolitical and military events and facilitating longer-term planning for development.  It needs –and deserves— more time.  The US government has disbursed a mere fraction of the $7.5 billion Congress authorized, with USAID (the largest spender) targeting spending of $800 million in 2013 – just over half the annual appropriation for $1.5 billion per year.  This opens up an opportunity to formally extend KLB’s partnership on development for five more years at no additional cost to the US Government.  As recommended in CGD’s 2012 report “More Money, More Problems”:

Avoid the rush: spend KLB over more years

“…given the large amounts of unobligated funds for Pakistan, constraints on the aid-delivery machinery, and the acute implementation challenges facing the United States and Pakistan, Congress and the administration should agree on a scaled-back program of development assistance for Pakistan for fiscal year 2013 at least. The United States can adhere to the KLB commitment of spending $7.5 billion on civilian programs, but the time horizon should be extended from 5 to 10 years. One could think of this as a no-cost extension, leaving open the possibility that US efforts will improve, that absorptive capacity in Pakistan will increase, and that there will be fewer bumps (such as Abbottabad) in the road ahead.”

With each of the original “KLB” leaving Congress, someone new should pick up the torch and help extend the legislation that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously only three years ago.

If confirmed, Secretary Kerry could combine the influence of his office with his considerable knowledge and experience in Pakistan to make real progress on our development agenda.  Early signs of improvement in the US/Pakistan relationship make it even more likely that this agenda could be translated into action and an improved outcome.  In a country that will soon become the world’s fifth most populous country, not to mention one with nuclear capabilities, one thing is certain: the outcome matters.