This weekly posting includes key news stories and opinion pieces related to foreign assistance reform and the larger development community.
What we’re reading today: Dissent over aid for AfPak
- State Dept. split over Pakistan aid (USA Today, October 12) – The problem — according to the memo by C. Stuart Callison, an economist with the U.S. Agency for International Development — is that Holbrooke is canceling successful programs run by U.S. contractors and preparing to bypass them by giving large sums to local organizations with shaky financial track records. The memo reflects larger frustrations within USAID, which has gone leaderless for eight months as it waits for Obama to appoint an administrator, said Carol Lancaster, interim dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who served as deputy administrator of the agency under President Bill Clinton. The agency “is hugely frustrated and pretty demoralized,” she said. Shifting aid from U.S. to local entities is a good thing, “but it has to be done at in the right sequence,” said Paul O’Brien, Oxfam’s director of aid effectiveness. If we see whole development programs come to an immediate halt, and people not going to school or the health clinic, that’s a huge cost right now.”
- Civilian Goals Largely Unmet in Afghanistan (The New York Times, October 11) – Since 2001, the United States has allocated nearly $13 billion for civilian aid to Afghanistan, officials at the State Department said, and other countries have given or promised billions more. But in a sign of the difficulties of working with one of the poorest countries in the world, the Defense Department report in January noted that although the Afghan Ministry of Finance is responsible for tracking international aid, there is “no reliable data on the total amount of international assistance that has been pledged or dispersed to the country.”
- The strings that threaten to shackle Pakistan (The National, October 11) – The new aid package, the Kerry-Lugar bill, seems to put a stamp of approval on that shift of resources: the United States plans to triple non-military aid to Pakistan while keeping military support options open based on developments on the ground. The bill’s fatal flaw, however, is the cobweb of strings attached. As it is currently formulated, it requires Islamabad to allow US oversight of its nuclear programme, to commit to fighting a basket of various militant groups and to keep the military from intervening in politics. Those are laudable goals in theory, but the bill is a tactical blunder that will worsen the US position if it is forced down Islamabad’s throat.
- Interagency Debate Over FAS Role Heats Up (CongressDaily PM, October 9) – Clinton responded Monday that the Obama administration has a “one government approach” to efforts in Afghanistan and appreciates USDA’s expertise. But Clinton, who is playing an unusually large role in managing USAID because no administrator has been nominated, said that she is “fully committed to rebuilding USAID as the U.S. government’s lead for international development.” She added USAID is hiring 300 Foreign Service officers, including agricultural development specialists. “I will not support any expansion of USDA’s international development function beyond Afghanistan without full engagement with the Congress first,” Clinton wrote. “We fully share your concern that FAS’ capacity to fulfill its primary mission to represent and promote U.S. farmers and exporters overseas not be hindered or diminished in any way as USDA engages in supporting U.S. objectives in Afghanistan.”