Will the latest move by the United States to focus its aid mission on a select few projects “win hearts” in Pakistan?
A few years back, the United States launched a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian aid program in Pakistan. Supporters of the initiative hoped it would improve the Pakistanis’ perception of America and pull them away from the allure of terrorist groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaida.
The program failed to gain traction. Instead, relations between the two countries soured. The general sentiment in Pakistan is that civilian aid has done “little” to help the average citizen,The Associated Press reports.
This perception has led the United States to cut the number of projects in the country. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah believes doing so will make an entire country of 185 million people see, value and appreciate U.S. assistance to Pakistan.
In addition, Shah said the project cuts will deliver “more value” to American taxpayers and could give the United States leverage in pressing the Pakistani government for much-needed reforms, especially in the energy and tax revenue sectors. Fewer than 2 percent of Pakistanis pay income tax, according toThe Associated Press.
The United States is “working” to cut the projects from more than 140 to around 35 by the end of September. Shah did not specify which programs will be affected, but said focus areas will be energy, economic growth, health, education and stabilization of Afghan border areas. Total civilian aid will remain the same.
Many lawmakers question U.S. aid to Pakistan, especially after al-Qaida leader Osama bin Ladenwas discovered in a hideout in a Pakistani military town in May last year. But U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly defended the assistance, saying it provides security to the American people.
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