WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. and Pakistani officials meet in Washington on Wednesday to discuss everything from security cooperation to how best to deliver aid for water, power, agriculture and other projects.
The United States is the biggest foreign donor to nuclear-armed Pakistan but that aid — both military and civilian — has often been a source of mistrust in the relationship, with suspicion over U.S. intentions.
Here are some questions and answers on aid to Pakistan:
Since the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, Washington has given more than $15 billion in aid to Pakistan, with more than two-thirds of that for security-related work. Washington wants Pakistan to help hunt for al Qaeda leaders — thought to be sheltering along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border — and to stop Islamist militants from crossing over into Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces there.
Security-related funding requests for this year amounted to about $2.5 billion, which was distributed among several U.S. funds, according to congressional documents. The United States has also provided F-16 fighter jets and is handing over a refurbished U.S. frigate to Pakistan by August.
Washington also plans to send 1,000 laser-guided bomb kits to Pakistan this month and is considering additional arms sales to help the Pakistani air force crack down on insurgents in the Afghan border region. The United States has promised to provide surveillance drones to Pakistan but has refused so far to offer sensitive technology for those pilotless aircraft.
The U.S. Congress passed legislation last October for a $7.5 billion civilian aid package for Pakistan over the next five years. Congress has appropriated $1.45 billion for 2010 and the State Department has submitted its plan for spending.
When the $7.5 billion package was announced last year, it was met with great suspicion in Pakistan, whose military said too many conditions were attached to the funds. The public was also deeply critical of the money, with the virulence of the anger taking U.S. officials by surprise.
Boosting energy capacity in Pakistan is a major push, with daily power cuts weighing on the economy and public patience. Other priorities are water, agriculture, health and education.
Another reason for focusing on power is to ensure Pakistan does not turn to U.S. foes such as Iran, which signed a pipeline deal with Islamabad recently. This is not on the official agenda of this week’s talks in Washington but experts say it will be the “elephant in the room” during energy talks. Pakistan is pushing for a nuclear cooperation deal with Washington, much like the United States has with India, but the Americans are lukewarm to this idea.
Yes. The Obama administration wants to steer away from so-called big box contractors popular with the Bush administration and U.S.-based non-governmental organizations. The plan now is to funnel a great deal of aid via local NGOs and directly through Pakistan’s civilian government. The hope is this approach will build local capacity.
But many local NGOs do not yet have the ability to handle big amounts of money and Congress demands strict monitoring and accountability of U.S. funds. While there is still a focus on going local, the plan is now more of a “hybrid approach” with both U.S. and Pakistani NGOs being used, as well as the national and regional governments.
Up to 15 Pakistani accounting firms have been hired to do about 70 surveys of NGOs and government departments before money is actually awarded. So far, 20 of these “pre-award” surveys have been done and 20 more are underway, said a senior U.S. official.
Lawmakers complain the spending plan sent to Congress last month was too skimpy. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar raised their concerns in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this month and questioned whether the money would be used in a way that most effectively improves Pakistani lives.
A senior U.S. official said the Obama administration was working hard to be responsive to Pakistani needs. She said it was difficult getting the right oversight mechanisms in place and it took time to negotiate with the Pakistani government.
Criticism has been robust that the Obama administration does not have the capacity to handle such large amounts of money. A senior U.S. official said there were about 60 USAID staff in Pakistan, with a plan to increase that to 94 by the end of next year or double it to 120.
U.S. aid groups mostly applaud the new focus but say it will be hard to show quick results needed to stem anti-American sentiment and sustain U.S. support. They have also fought hard not to have aid seen as an extension of the administration’s counter-insurgency strategy in the region, a linkage that puts humanitarian workers at risk.
“It is important that those receiving resources are seen as working for the people and not a particular political objective,” said Sam Worthington, president of the aid group InterAction, which represents about 150 groups in the United States.
The aid program is seen as an important tool for the long-term stabilization of Pakistan and a way to help turn around anti-American sentiment.
“This is the ultimate test of the administration’s smart power,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Editing by John O'Callaghan