Press Release

Poor Marks for US Civilian Efforts in Pakistan

July 30, 2012


Washington, D.C. (July 30, 2012) – A new report card on the US development strategy in Pakistan gives failing marks in key areas but recommends that the United States stay engaged in Pakistan, focus on areas where it has achieved success, channel more funds through other entities, such as the World Bank, and spread previously authorized assistance over more years.

Media contact:
Catherine An
Media Relations Associate
(202) 416-4040

The grades and recommendations are from a new study by the Center for Global Development that assesses American support for economic growth and poverty reduction in a fractious, nuclear-armed state in the frontlines of the US fight against Islamic extremists.

The report card assigns Ds and Fs in four of the ten areas assessed. The sole B was awarded for “support Pakistan’s reformers.” The report noted with approval the existence of “small grant programs [that] provide some funding for reformers via civil-society groups” and “some support to research via Pakistani strategic support programs and centers for advanced studies.”

“Despite progress in consolidating US aid programs, the reality is that there are limits to what aid alone can accomplish. A set of discrete projects, even well-executed, does not represent a strategy,” CGD president Nancy Birdsall writes in the preface to the report, More Money, More Problems: A 2012 Assessment of the US Approach to Development in Pakistan.

Report Card: US Approach to Development in Pakistan

“We recommend that for the time being the annual size of the program be reduced and that more US money flow through multilateral and other donor channels.  At the same time, we recommend a more clear and explicit commitment on the part of the administration and the Congress to strengthening the dialogue with Pakistani civilian counterparts on that country’s tremendous economic, social, and natural resource policy challenges,” she adds.

While Pakistan is too important for the United States to walk away, the report recommends patience and realistic expectations about what US assistance can accomplish.

It argues that the United States is “handicapped” in its efforts to support development in Pakistan because of high levels of anti-Americanism associated with the war in Afghanistan and drone strikes within Pakistan and should therefore provide more of its assistance by helping to finance the work of multilateral organizations and the aid agencies of US allies such as the UK. 

Central to US civilian engagement with Pakistan is the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) bill which in 2010 authorized up to $1.5 billion a year over five years for non-military development assistance to Pakistan. Except for the first year, annual appropriations have fallen short and average annual disbursements, excluding flood aid in 2010, have been less than half of what was originally envisioned.

The report recommends that the administration and Congress extend the original $7.5 billion, five-year KLB authorization over a total of ten years, recognizing the limits to what US assistance can accomplish in Pakistan and that money for aid is likely to decrease because of US fiscal pressures.

At the heart of the problem, the report says, is confusion between two sets of US objectives in Pakistan: long-term development goals—helping Pakistan to become a more stable and prosperous country—and short-term diplomatic and security imperatives.

The tensions between the two sets of objectives were strikingly evident in a CIA-led fake vaccination drive used to collect DNA to confirm the presence of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. This month, gunmen in Pakistan have twice fired on foreign health workers delivering polio vaccines, killing one and wounding two.

Report co-author Milan Vaishnav, a CGD visiting fellow who recently became an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said “because security concerns dominate US policy towards Pakistan, there is no consensus across government agencies on the US development strategy.”

The report shows that the United States has instead bumbled along with an ad hoc approach that limits the effectiveness of individual agencies such as USAID, the main US development agency. “On issues ranging from leadership, transparency, integrating non-aid tools, and clarity of mission, the development program continues to flounder,” the report says.

“The problem is not just the tumultuous environment in Pakistan,” the report notes. “It is also a matter of self-inflicted wounds: unrealistic expectations associated with new money (more money, in retrospect, brought on more not fewer problems); the system-wide shortcomings of US aid programs throughout the world; and the political difficulty of dealing with a reluctant Congress on new trade and private sector support programs for developing countries.”  

The report recommends that the administration work with the Congress to make it possible to channel more of the KLB funds through the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and to “make it easier to take sensible advantage of the strengths of other donors like the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID) in Pakistan, particularly in education and other service delivery.”

The report card assigns grades for US progress on ten key recommendations in a 2011 CGD report, Beyond Bullets and Bombs: Fixing the US Approach to Development in Pakistan, that drew on the knowledge of a 20-member study group of US and Pakistani experts on development and US-Pakistan relations.

The report gives a failing mark for “measure what matters,” that is, tracking Pakistan’s overall development progress, not just the outputs of US projects.  Also earning an F: “Let Pakistani products compete in US markets,” a call to offer Pakistani exports duty-free, quota-free access to US markets. On two of the items, USAID gets a B for effort, higher than the US government’s overall grade.

This new CGD report offers five recommendations to get the US development program on track:

  • Keep the economic and development policy conversation going: Distinguish between the size of the Pakistani aid program and active, high-level policy dialogue. Efforts to foster a long-term relationship in which the stability and prosperity of the region is a primary concern should be a priority.  
  • Avoid the rush—spend KLB funds over more years: Given the constraints on aid delivery and difficulty achieving measurable success, Congress and the administration should agree to reduce annual spending and extend the original 5-year authorization over a 10-year program.
  • Focus on what the United States can do best: In Pakistan the United States has been effective in supporting higher education and increasing short-term energy supply, and it has a good record elsewhere in helping small businesses thrive. The United States should focus on these areas of strength. 
  • Development with friends—channel more US aid dollars through other donors: In areas where the United States has had less success—primary school education and health, for example—take advantage of the strengths of other donors, such as the World Bank and the UK foreign assistance program. Create a diversified development portfolio consisting of direct assistance, co-financing, pooled or trust-fund financing, and non-aid tools such as trade and investment.
  • Focus on transparency, not branding and logos.  The US government should be far less concerned with branding and much more focused on improving the transparency of US development efforts. Development strategy should drive branding strategy, not the other way around.

“The recommendations proposed in this report are intended to guide development efforts so that they make a concrete, discrete and measurable impact towards a more stable, prosperous Pakistan,” said Danny Cutherell, a CGD policy analyst and co-author of this report.

2012 Report Card on US Development Strategy in Pakistan

Notes for Editors: Report co-authors Nancy Birdsall, Milan Vaishnav, and Danny Cutherell are available for interviews. To arrange an interview please contact media relations associate Catherine An at or call 202-416-4040.