Kerry Gets Tough on US Aid to Pakistan

U.S. Sen. John Kerry is concerned that the Pakistani government may not have the capacity to use U.S. aid properly.

In a letter sent to Richard Holbrooke, top U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Kerry warns that the “potential for misuse [of U.S. development assistance in Pakistan] is significant enough.”

“Too much money funneled too fast to the Pakistani government or local Pakistani groups may jeopardize U.S. funds,” Kerry writes. “The potential for misuse is significant enough to raise warning flags about the pace of funneling funds through institutions without a strong track-record of transparent, accountable, and effective money-management - or significant experience in the successful delivery of projects.”

More than half of U.S. assistance to Pakistan for fiscal 2010 “will likely go directly” to the government of Pakistan or local Pakistani implementing partners, Kerry explains in the letter, which tackles some recommendations on improving U.S. aid to Pakistan that came from briefings with officials from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

As such, long-term development, transparency and policy reforms should be the focus of U.S. development assistance for Pakistan, Kerry suggests.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which has conducted an “in-depth review” of how funding for Pakistan will be spent sector by sector in fiscal 2010, endorses “long-term progress instead of short-term fixes.” To achieve this, policy and institutional reforms should be put in place particularly in the sectors of health, education and basic services. Without institutional building, development programs “may not be sustainable for Pakistanis when U.S. aid decreases,” Kerry writes.

Learning from ADB and World Bank

The U.S. should learn from multilateral donors such as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank that have consistently assisted Pakistan, the senator says, stressing that the Obama administration should build on the work of these two institutions to “have a coordinated approach that better leverages our collective resources with the Pakistani government.”

The U.S. “had virtually no development presence whatsoever [in Pakistan] during the entire decade leading up to 9/11,” according to a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development. Since 2001, U.S. aid to Pakistan was “very modest,” totaling less than USD500 million each year, Molly Kinder notes on the think tank’s website, adding that it was only until the past fiscal year that the funding was scaled up to USD1.5 billion annually.

“In the meantime, the main multilateral donors such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank have maintained a consistently robust lending portfolio in Pakistan for several decades worth several billions of dollars. Much can be learned from their experience and on-the-ground perspective,” she argues.

Transparency in spending U.S. funding is also an area that needs some work, Kerry notes. The Obama administration should be “more proactive and transparent” with the public, both in the U.S. and Pakistan, on disseminating information about program descriptions and actual disbursements.

Says Kerry: “Transparency has been lacking so far.”

About the author

  • Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.