Few people in America are familiar with KLB—the U.S. legislation that authorised $7.5 billion in development assistance to Pakistan between 2009 and 2014—but it’s become a household phrase in Pakistan.
Last week we released a new report, "More Money, More Problems," evaluating KLB’s progress to date. In short, the bill has failed to live up to its creators’ expectations and the United States must alter its approach if the program is to continue. But bilateral development cooperation is still important to improve the lives of millions of Pakistanis and enable better relations between the two countries. There are steps that Pakistan can take to help ensure U.S. assistance is effective.
But before lambasting the United States for not accomplishing what it set out to do, it’s important to recognise the context in which KLB is being implemented. The last three years have not been good ones for the United States-Pakistan relationship. From Raymond Davis to Salala (not to mention that little episode in Abbottabad), a series of diplomatic dust-ups have opened a widening rift between the two countries. Given the circumstances, in some ways it’s surprising that the U.S. assistance programme still exists at all.
As critical as the report is of U.S. efforts, one of its underlying assumptions is that United States-Pakistan development cooperation should continue. The lives of Pakistanis can be improved by adding megawatts of power to the national grid and by improving entrepreneurs’ access to credit — areas where the United States can help. And the development programme also provides a more neutral channel for engagement between the two countries. As the political-military relationship encounters inevitable bumps in the road, development offers a channel for working together—a channel that, importantly, relies on collaboration between civilians in both governments.
In order for KLB to achieve its potential, however, both countries must do more to ensure that dialogue around development continues. They must redouble their efforts to make sure that money spent on development achieves its intended result.
At the end of the day, U.S. assistance, on its own, cannot alter the fundamental realities of Pakistan’s political economy. Decades of failed reform efforts highlight the limits of donor leverage. Yet, U.S. assistance can act as a catalyst to bring about modest change. In order for this to be possible, however, the United States must acknowledge its shortcomings as a development actor and Pakistan must recognise its role in helping get the KLB program back on track.
There are three steps the government of Pakistan can take to help the United States help Pakistan. First, Pakistan needs to insist that the two countries agree on a limited set of metrics to measure Pakistan’s overall development progress. These should be more than direct outputs of aid projects. Rather, they should reflect a shared view of what development can do, and which outcomes should be pursued over the next several years. One of the biggest failures of the current U.S. approach is the lack of overarching vision. The best American civilians have been able to do is identify five "priority" sectors to organise its activities in Pakistan. Within each sector, however, Pakistanis are clueless about the end goals of U.S. assistance, and U.S. officials have struggled to construct a compelling narrative.
In Pakistan, mentioning "indicators" immediately raises red flags about "conditionality" or "benchmarks." Yet without clear objectives, aid will continue to be evaluated using the only available (but largely unhelpful) metric: aid dollars spent. We know, of course, that aid spending alone does not guarantee positive development impact. The government of Pakistan must exercise leadership and either take ownership over development programming to ensure that it is a joint, highly focused effort, or reject it outright.
Second, Pakistan must recognize America’s limitations as a development actor. The United States— like all donors—is simply better at some things than others. Acknowledging this central truth also requires a dose of humility on the part of American civilians.The same country that can conduct targeted drone strikes in remote Waziristan is not, it turns out, the most effective agent for strengthening primary education in southern Punjab.
The United States has a comparative advantage in using its development funds on energy, innovation, higher education programmes and supporting the private sector. Pakistan can help U.S. civilians by identifying sectors or projects where U.S. support is most needed, and by discouraging U.S. programs where other donors would do a better job. Pakistan should also encourage donors to pool resources through multilateral channels that can be directed to specific sectors or programs, and led by donors who have the best expertise and experience.
Finally, both countries bear a degree of responsibility for managing expectations for what development programmes can actually achieve. The Obama administration needs to communicate to Congress that aid will not buy Americans love, rein in the Pakistani military or force crucial reforms on energy or tax collection. Pakistan, for its part, should also scale back its own expectations. There are still far too many people inside Pakistan who believe a miserly Obama administration has total control of $7.5 billion but is holding back in order to punish Pakistan. In reality, U.S. development budgets are approved on a yearly basis by Congress; KLB merely represents an intention, not an iron-clad contract. The administration has to make the case to Congress each year that Pakistan deserves the money.
Despite the unfulfilled expectations thus far, the United States should remain fully committed to its KLB promise to support the creation of a strong, economically vibrant Pakistan with an accountable, democratic government. This is in the interests of Americans as well as Pakistanis. Yet it’s clear that the United Statesfaces severe constraints in its ability to be an effective development actor in Pakistan.
There are certainly reasons to be critical of U.S. development efforts in Pakistan and serious changes need to be made, but Pakistan too shares the burden for improving U.S. efforts. Even though the United States is spending billions to help Pakistan, ironically it is Pakistan that must help the United States in order to help itself.