'Serious challenges' plague massive US aid to Pakistan: Report

Islamabad, Jan 22(ANI): The ambitious US civilian-aid program, which has made Pakistan the world's second-largest recipient of American economic and development assistance, is facing a host of serious challenges on the ground.

A push to give more money directly to the the Pakistan government and local organisations has been slowed by concerns about the local groups' capacity to properly handle the funds, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Some international groups have balked at new requirements, such as prominently displaying US government logos on food shipments, and have pulled out of US government programs, it added.

Anti-American sentiment continues to flourish in Pakistan despite the uptick in spending, in part because of the US drone attacks on tribal regions. A last July poll by the Washington-based Pew Research Center showed that two-thirds of Pakistani respondents considered the US as an enemy, said the report.

In early 2009, US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke was frustrated that all of the money the US was pouring into Pakistan had failed to improve America's image there, the report said, adding that in March 2009, he called a meeting in India of all aid officials involved in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics to outline how things would change.

"He thought everything we were doing was a failure," recalls one participant in the meeting.

According to the report, Holbrooke decided to shift focus- to give more aid directly to local organizations and the Pakistan government, and less to the foreign nongovernmental organizations that handled the bulk in the past.

However, the report said it was unclear whether Pakistan's nongovernmental organizations were prepared to handle a massive influx of funds.

"I think $1.5 billion is too much money for this country," said Shandana Khan, head of a nationwide network of rural-development organizations that recently won a 20-million-dollar grant from the USAID. "This country doesn't have many organizations that can absorb this kind of money."

Some senior USAID staffers have complained that the change in policy has happened too quickly for the agency to find suitable new programs, the report said.

US officials acknowledge difficulties distributing so much money, but say the shift in direction is needed, the report added. (ANI)

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