A Closer Look At How U.S. Aid To Pakistan Is Spent

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks to Alexander Thier, director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at USAID, about the U.S. aid package to Pakistan. For fiscal year 2010, the U.S. budgeted about $1.3 billion in economic assistance to Pakistan. Additional funds have been allocated for flood relief.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

This week, we're holding a series of conversations about the country that is perhaps the United States' most confounding ally: Pakistan. Just about everyone agrees the road to winning in Afghanistan runs through Pakistan, not to mention the road to winning the wider fight against al-Qaida-linked terrorism.

But Pakistan, as a recent White House assessment suggests, has proven either unwilling or unable to crack down on enemies' safe havens. In the next few days, we'll be taking a look at the key players inside Pakistan, and why anti-Americanism there runs so high.

KELLY: Today, though, U.S. aid to Pakistan. How much money does the U.S. spend in Pakistan and what does that money buy? We're putting those questions to Alex Thier. He's director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID.

And Alex Thier, I have read that the U.S. gives more aid money to Pakistan than any other single country does. How much are we talking? What is the USAID budget to Pakistan?

Mr. ALEX THIER (Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, USAID): USAID supports Pakistan in two ways, particularly this year. Overall, the Congress has given us for the last year about $1.3 billion to support assistance and development in Pakistan. And that amount has been plussed-up some due to the flood. The U.S. has committed an additional $400 million in civilian assistance this year, because of the tragic floods that they've had.

KELLY: But in terms of specifics, this money is to be used for, we've mentioned, flood assistance but more broadly speaking: health projects, education, energy - what sort of things?

Mr. THIER: Well, it's all of those. We support Pakistan in a few critical sectors. A lot of our assistance this year is going into helping the Pakistanis figure how to reform their electricity sector. Another big area of contribution are in the areas of agriculture and water.

Our goal is not only to provide them with assistance. It's really to provide them with assistance that's going to grow their economy, so that the Pakistanis are much more able to support themselves in the future.

KELLY: Hmm. Well, and we should mention all of those projects, all of these figures we've been talking about, that does not include U.S. military aid, money that may be flowing through covert channels to Pakistan's Intelligence Service - any way to put an estimate on those figures?

Mr. THIER: Those aren't figures that I have, that I'm able to tell you, unfortunately.

KELLY: It does all add up to quite a lot of money that the U.S. is spending in Pakistan and on Pakistan every year. What does it buy the U.S.? I mean, what we hear about everyday is despite this generosity, anti-Americanism is rampant in Pakistan.

Mr. THIER: Well, you know, I think that there's really - there's the practical impact and there's the strategic impact that we hope this assistance has. We really want to improve the relationship between the United States and Pakistan. And one of the ways that we do that is through a process of dialogue. And these assistance programs have brought us into a regular process of dialogue.

In fact, in Washington next week, we will have very senior levels of the Pakistani government coming to engage in what's called the strategic dialogue process. And by having these discussions in an intensive way, we hope that it works towards reform so that Pakistanis and the Pakistani government are much more able in the future to help their own people.

KELLY: Well, and dialogue and discussion are obviously a good thing. But I think it's difficult for a lot of Americans to square the incredible amounts of money that the U.S. spends in Pakistan with an ally that often seems to act in ways directly contrary to U.S. interests.

You could point to the closing of the Torkham Border Crossing recently that blocked NATO supply lines. How do you square those things?

Mr. THIER: Well, I think the way that we square them is by making a decision that engagement with Pakistan, engagement with Pakistan's leaders and Pakistani people is ultimately going to yield the better outcome for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Rather than shunning Pakistan, we engage with them and through that engagement we try to make both their policies towards us in a security sense, as well as in a political sense, more positive.

KELLY: Okay. That's Alex Thier. He is director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development. Thanks very much.

Mr. THIER: Thank you.

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