Aid / 25.06.2011

By Anjum Altaf My critique of the Center for Global Development’s report on US aid to Pakistan has elicited a comment from the authors. I appreciate their willingness to engage in a discussion and reproduce their comment in full before offering my own reactions to explain why I remain unconvinced by their arguments. The most scathing review so far of our recent report Beyond Bullets and Bombs: Fixing the U.S. Approach to Development in Pakistan, comes from Anjum Altaf, a Pakistani academic who represents this viewpoint well.He commends us for observing the poor track record donors have of pushing reform in Pakistan and the potential pitfalls inherent in the aid business. But he all but accuses us of intellectual cowardice for not following up by endorsing a total aid cut-off. Altaf concludes: “It is not aid that needs to be fixed, but the governance of the country. The report makes it...

Aid / 09.06.2011

By Anjum Altaf Beyond Bullets and Bombs is the title of the latest report on aid to Pakistan from the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC. In light of the increasingly anti-Pakistan sentiment in the U.S., the report, addressed to decision and policy makers in Washington, takes on the brief to make the best possible case for the continuation of aid. Hence the subtitle: Fixing the U.S. Approach to Development in Pakistan. The report is a revealing illustration of advocacy over analysis; a more open examination would have begun by questioning the impacts of U.S. aid to Pakistan, before deciding if the total benefits of “fixing” it exceeded the total cost to both sides. It is to the report’s credit that it is forthright and includes all the relevant pieces of information, but the way it uses that information is determined by the choice it makes.What...

Aid / 31.05.2011

By South Asian We are now in a position, having described the evidence (A Primer on Foreign Aid – 2), to discuss the less obvious dimensions of foreign aid which address issues of whether aid can be effective and under what kinds of conditions. The Effectiveness of Aid There has been much hand-wringing over the disappointing results of aid and many international conferences and meetings have been convened to devise mechanisms to increase its effectiveness. Over time many civil society activists have begun to entertain doubts about their purpose and intentions. It does not seem plausible that some of the leading minds in the world are unable to figure out the basic problems in the aid syndrome, the gross misalignment of incentives, and the vested interests that benefit from a continuation of the status quo give or take some marginal changes. On the contrary, they have come to...

Aid / 30.05.2011

By South Asian With the basic definitions out of the way (A Primer on Foreign Aid – 1) we can move on to the rationale of foreign aid and its results and consequences. Rationale of Foreign Aid The rationale of foreign aid, at least in the beginning, was quite simple. It was believed that there was surplus labor in poor countries while capital was scarce and the ability to borrow commercially was limited. If enough capital transfers could be mobilized on softer terms, the process of development could be facilitated and such development would be in the interest of both the developing and the developed countries. In a nutshell, the rationale was based on the identification of two gaps – this was often called the two-gap model. It was believed that in the early stages of development, domestic savings were not enough to finance the needed investments; and that...

Aid / 29.05.2011

By South Asian Foreign aid is almost always in the news, at times more than others. All sorts of questions keep swirling in the air: questions about its nature, rationale, aims, effects, results, justification, symbolism, and even about its quantum. All through this heated debate the issue remains surrounded by a thick fog of obfuscation; many remain unclear of what exactly is being talked about. In this post, I intend to present a primer on foreign aid. Each of the opinions offered in the following sections can be contested; the aim is not to provide a definitive conclusion but to set the stage for an informed debate that employs common definitions and a shared point of departure. Aid as a Transfer of Resources Since almost every resource can be translated into a monetary equivalent we can simplify this discussion by thinking only in terms of financial transfers. Consider...

Aid / 22.02.2011

By Anjum Altaf Between the idea and the reality, Eliot wrote, falls the shadow. The phrase is so well known as to be almost cliché, but as with many clichés, there is truth to it. There is universality, too – the metaphor could extend to many areas; there are shadows everywhere. Foreign aid, for example: there is the idea and the reality, the theory and the practice, the intent and the execution. The theory of foreign aid is simple enough: If those lacking capital and technology and ideas were provided with such, they could be launched on the path of progress. In practice it has rarely ever worked like that – there is more to the equation than capital and technology and ideas. There is the shadow that falls between the theory and the results, a shadow full of objectives stated and unstated, incentives of this party and...

Aid / 01.08.2010

By Samia Altaf and Anjum Altaf This op-ed appeared in Dawn, Karachi, on July 30, 2010. It was intended to initiate a discussion on the possible approaches to sector reform and is being reproduced here with permission of the authors to provide a forum for discussion and feedback. We must state at the outset that we have been wary of, if not actually opposed to, the prospect of further economic assistance to Pakistan because of the callous misuse and abuse of aid that has marked the past across all elected and non-elected regimes. We are convinced that such aid, driven by political imperatives and deliberately blind to the well recognized holes in the system, has been a disservice to the Pakistani people by destroying all incentives for self-reliance, good governance, and accountability to either the ultimate donors or recipients. Even without the holes in the system the kind...

Aid / 28.05.2009

By Anjum Altaf The success of Slumdog Millionaire has made the slum an image familiar to a lot more people in both East and West. Is it possible to use that image to discover something new about South Asia? It was not the movie that triggered the idea itself but a chapter in a very old book that I happened to be reading. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, first published in 1961, is a classic described by the New York Times Book Review as “perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning… a work of literature.” It contains a fascinating chapter titled ‘Unslumming and Slumming’ that made me realize that while we have overused slums as a descriptive category we have underused it as an analytical one. The question that came to mind was whether there was anything...

Aid, Pakistan / 07.09.2008

By Anjum Altaf As Chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden has been a strong advocate of increased developmental assistance for Pakistan. Therefore, if he becomes the Vice President in November, the prospects of a significant jump in the quantum of American aid to Pakistan would grow considerably. Would this be a good idea? The question is good idea for whom? Who would be the beneficiary of this assistance? Any such increase would clearly ignore the evidence that much past aid to Pakistan has been wasted because there are no tangible development outcomes to be seen. This is not to say that there have no beneficiaries of the transfer of funds. An investigative report would provide fascinating stories about where all the money has gone. Between 1950 and 2000, donor assistance to Pakistan has been of the order of $60 billion. Yet, the country’s social indicators...

Aid / 09.01.2008

By Samia Altaf A chat over tea at a government office in Islamabad reveals why billions in aid have done so little for Pakistan’s poor. Not enough nurses. Not enough jobs. Nurses working as “doctors.” Trained nurses being encouraged to leave the country. Untrained and uncertified “nurses” being recruited in sheer desperation by private hospitals. What a strange and paradoxical situation! Yet there is no discussion of these crucial issues. And new training programs are being developed, because there is pressure from international organizations to include more women, supposedly to meet the human resource ­shortage. My companion sat shaking her head. Mrs. S. was starting to look restless. She signaled to the attendant for tea. In a government office, a tea break can become a project unto ­itself. “The problem with women,” Mrs. S. volunteered conversationally, again adjusting the dupatta delicately on her hair as the tea service was laid out, “is...