Aid To Pakistan Helps U.S. National Security Interests
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And the Obama administration hopes to help stabilize Pakistan and its government by investing in that country a huge amount of civilian aid. The administration is expected to give Congress details soon on exactly how it expects to spend that aid. The U.S. aims to help Pakistanis with basic needs, from energy to clean water. The economic assistance is billed as part of the U.S. counterinsurgency efforts, and that has some aid workers worried. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Congressman Howard Berman was one of the lead authors of a bill to triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan, and he says he's expecting the administration to have a clear strategy - not only on how to spend the money, but also monitor it. The California Democrat says the U.S. has a poor track record in Pakistan.
Representative HOWARD BERMAN (Democrat, California): In the past, we were building schools, but the Pakistani government wasn't hiring teachers. So we built a nice school, and it was a ghost school because there were no students in that school. These are the kinds of things we don't want to see repeated again.
KELEMEN: Education and health programs will likely be funded by the five-year, $7.5 billion program. The special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, says another major focus of the U.S. aid will be on meeting Pakistan's energy and water needs, issues that were raised during his most recent trip there.
Mr. RICHARD HOLBROOKE (Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan): And we're talking about how to improve our economic assistance and to help the overall - the people of Pakistan in their major needs, like energy and water. Water came up more than any other issue on the trip, even more than energy, and we took that very seriously.
KELEMEN: His aides say they're looking for big infrastructure projects and smaller ones, such as getting running water in schools and health clinics. The idea is to do some visible things to show that Americans are helping Pakistanis meet their needs. U.S. non-governmental groups that have been working in Pakistan are worried about where they fit in.
Anne Richard, a vice president of the International Rescue Committee, says her organization was taken by surprised when Holbrooke's office made clear it wants to cut out intermediaries and aid the Pakistani government and local groups directly.
Ms. ANNE RICHARD (Vice President, International Rescue Committee): If they want to improve the Pakistani government's abilities to help its own people, we would maintain we are part of that solution, because that's what we're already doing. So you may want to review all the - you may want to consider ways to improve it, but we think we're a part of something that's working.
KELEMEN: Congressman Howard Berman says he was also worried at first, but thinks the Obama administration is getting a better handle on this.
Rep. BERMAN: They're approaching it sensibly. Where we have good programs, they're not going to throw them out. We're providing a lot more money. This is a chance to maintain our good programs, discard the bad ones, and find new ways of delivering assistance effectively that helps the people of Pakistan.
KELEMEN: Berman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says putting together an effective aid program is in U.S. national security interests.
Rep. BERMAN: That, along with what the Pakistan military is doing with our help, is the most affective counterinsurgency strategy because it will lead to a more stable Pakistan, where the Pakistani people finally find a reason to support their government.
KELEMEN: But being part of a counterinsurgency strategy is not a comfortable position for many aid workers, according to the IRC's Anne Richard.
Ms. RICHARD: We are motivated by humanitarian principles. We want to give aid based on need to people who are vulnerable and need it, and we don't want to check what political party they're voting for or what part of the country they're coming from. If they're displaced and they need help, we want to make sure that they get it.
KELEMEN: For the U.S. government aid effort, the Obama administration is expected to send more aid officials to Pakistan to oversee the tripling of assistance and beef up the U.S. presence outside the capital Islamabad to Lahore and Karachi. The U.S. is also sending inspectors and planning to hire some local accountants to help with the oversight.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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