A Closer Look at CGD’s Report on U.S. Development Efforts in Pakistan

Earlier we posted a summary of CGD’s newest report, Beyond Bullets and Bombs: Fixing the U.S. Approach to Development in Pakistan, and how it can be used as an important tool for policymakers as they weigh budget priorities and strategic interests, as well as advocates pushing for foreign assistance reform. The meat of the report aligns well with several MFAN priorities, such as having clear lines of authority, allowing for locally-driven priorities to set agendas, and being transparent. Below, we take a closer look at CGD’s findings and connect them to broader reform principles.

Mismatched Priorities

In Pakistan, CGD diagnoses a muddled mission with incoherent priorities. U.S. development policy currently attempts to accomplish a staggering number of objectives, but lacks a clear hierarchy that can guide its implementation.

Absent clear development priorities, lawmakers in Washington often elevate tangential objectives, such as improving the public image of the U.S., while ignoring goals that are most meaningful for Pakistanis, such as improving the education system, building up the health sector, and providing services to marginalized rural communities. Additionally, conflated political and development goals threaten to undermine progress when a diplomatic hurdle looms, such as last month’s dust up over the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. CGD argues that development efforts in Pakistan should not be held hostage to the tumultuous U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship, which is permeated by mistrust and frustration even at the best of times.

Blurred Lines of Authority

Apart from mismatched priorities, blurred lines of authority confuse U.S. and Pakistani officials alike. The roles of the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, the USAID mission director, and the Af-Pak assistance coordinator are not clearly defined, leaving the report’s authors wondering, even after months of meticulous research, exactly who is in charge of what. Even worse, among senior officials in Washington and Islamabad, the USAID mission director is viewed to report to the State Department assistance coordinator, reinforcing the perception that U.S. development priorities are subservient to diplomatic interests. MFAN’s call for clear lines of authority, a leadership role for USAID, and improved coordination among the many agencies contributing to U.S. foreign assistance is meant to avoid such confusion among key stakeholders.

Distinctiveness between Diplomacy and Development

While MFAN advocates for greater distinctiveness between development and diplomacy, U.S. policy in Pakistan has reinforced the perception that U.S. efforts to strengthen the Pakistani state are self-serving and therefore suspicious. As a result, Pakistanis are hesitant to take charge of a development campaign that appears to advance U.S., rather than Pakistani, priorities. These challenges are exacerbated by the U.S. program in Pakistan’s lack of transparency. The absence of basic data and poor communication provokes skepticism and mistrust among the Pakistani government and people. Pakistanis and Americans want to know how much money has been spent and on what. However, as CGD makes clear, a simple and clear answer is not forthcoming.


Efforts to prioritize accountability in U.S. foreign assistance—which MFAN has championed—have clearly hit a wall in Pakistan. MFAN’s promotion of the Foreign Assistance Dashboard is meant to address the information gap. CGD also sees enormous potential for the Dashboard to assuage doubts and fears related to the Pakistan aid program.

Locally-led Development Priorities

Throughout the report, CGD places the impetus for development at the feet of the Pakistanis themselves. Just as MFAN argues that development should be driven by local priorities, CGD emphasizes the leadership role that must be assumed by Pakistani citizens. Indicators of success that are dictated from Washington will always be divorced from those developed by local people who will live with the consequences. Beyond Bullets and Bombs recognizes that Pakistan’s most pressing problems such as collecting taxes, rationalizing the financing of the energy and water sectors, and fighting corruption can only be solved through the visionary leadership of Pakistanis themselves and will require tough political choices.

CGD also counsels patience, pushing back on the impulse of lawmakers and bureaucrats who measure success in dollars spent and have expressed frustration at the slow pace of disbursement. The pace of meaningful development must not get ahead of the people whose lives it intends to improve, and CGD cautions against pressuring USAID to spend for the sake of spending. MFAN’s embrace of enhanced monitoring and evaluation standards is grounded in a similar belief that dollars moved is a poor reflection of real development impact.

Beyond Bullets and Bombs offers five guiding principles for U.S. policymakers to help reverse this negative trajectory:

  • Clarify the mission: separate the Pakistan development program from the Afghanistan program and from the Pakistan security program.
  • Name a leader: put one person in charge of the development program in Washington and in Islamabad.
  • Say what you are doing: set up a website with regularly updated data on U.S. aid commitments and disbursements in Pakistan by project, place, and recipient.
  • Staff the USAID mission for success: allow for greater staff continuity, carve out a greater role for program staff in policy dialogue, and hire senior-level Pakistani leadership.
  • Measure what matters: track not just the outputs of U.S. aid projects but Pakistan’s overall development progress.

Looking Beyond Aid

Additionally, CGD makes a strong case that development cannot be viewed solely through the prism of aid. U.S. direct investment in Pakistan has fallen by nearly two-thirds from 2008 to 2010, while Pakistani exports face stiff tariffs in the U.S. Beyond Bullets and Bombs insists that development outcomes will be more sustainable and impactful if the U.S. strategy addresses trade and foreign investment. To boost trade, CGD recommends establishing duty-free and quote-free access for Pakistani exports, a recommendation that MFAN has made to invigorate the economies of developing countries. To spur investment, CGD proposes increasing the credit subsidy funding available to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) in order to minimize risk for would-be investors and increase the availability of credit for small and medium enterprises in Pakistan. As Washington’s thinking about foreign assistance evolves and expands to encompass trade and foreign investment policies, CGD’s paper is a welcome reminder that foreign assistance is about much more than aid.

Beyond Bullets and Bombs makes a strong case for continued U.S. engagement in Pakistan, linking the security and prosperity of Americans with efforts to prevent the nuclear armed Pakistani state from collapsing. A destabilized Pakistan would quickly become a threat to itself, its neighbors, and the U.S. The report’s authors are crystal clear that their critique of U.S. development policy is meant to refine the current policy, rather than replace it, and that the imperfections of U.S. development efforts in Pakistan should not in any way minimize its importance as a key pillar of foreign policy. “While we recommend some fixes for this specific development program, they do not reduce the need for development to take on a more prominent role in the broader U.S. foreign policy apparatus,” they write.

In the end, Beyond Bullets and Bombs highlights the gap between policy and practice and the disconnect that often occurs between Washington and those on the front lines of today’s most pressing development challenges.


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