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Wishful thinking on Pakistan

From last weekend’s New York Times:

As the Obama administration continues to add to the aid package for flood-stricken Pakistan — already the largest humanitarian response from any single country — officials acknowledge that they are seeking to use the efforts to burnish the United States’ dismal image there.…

American officials say they are trying to rekindle the same good will generated five years ago when the United States military played a major role in responding to an earthquake in Kashmir in 2005 that killed 75,000 people.

…But American officials warn that the glow from the earthquake assistance faded quickly without more enduring development programs.

“LeFever [the senior US officer in Pakistan] clearly understands the P.R. value of flood assistance, but he also knows that absent other high-profile public diplomacy efforts, the half-life of any improvement to Pakistani impressions of the U.S. will be short,” said John K. Wood, a retired Army colonel….

This article raises several questions related to recent Aid Watch blog posts. First, has anyone quoted in the article examined the evidence for or against the hypothesis that giving disaster relief will improve the US’s image in Pakistan? As we blogged recently, there is startlingly little evidence at all on whether aid can “win hearts and minds,” but one of the few studies that exists looked specifically at the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. It found that even though US relief efforts were effective from a humanitarian perspective, they had no lasting impact on Pakistani perceptions.

Second, the Army official quoted above warns that flood assistance from the US may not be enough to create lasting change. Maybe he read the studies (or our blog)? But from which studies did he get his evidence that  “high-profile public diplomacy efforts” have a huge payoff for making Pakistanis love us?

Third, could the love affair between US aid and Pakistan be suffering because Pakistan remembers that US aid jilted them several previous times? (See great graph from CGD.) And because the aid to Pakistan was driven by our own strategic interests?

US assistance to Pakistan, 1948-2011

The US track record on aid to Pakistan is not consistent. Source: Center for Global Development (note: since 2001, economic aid has been high but is hidden behind military aid in the graph – see shaded areas and point at which dotted blue line emerges).

Now this may sound hopelessly naïve, but here are some reasons the American government should be providing humanitarian assistance to Pakistan: This is an unprecedented disaster causing tremendous suffering and disruption for millions of Pakistani people. The ongoing floods that have submerged one-fifth of Pakistan under water have killed 1,500 people, destroyed crops and livestock, and have put as many as 6 million people at risk of dying from water-borne diseases in “a second wave of deaths” now predicted by UN officials.

If ever there was a time for US aid to demonstrate that it is NOT always and everywhere ONLY about US strategic interests, this would be a good time. And because it’s the right thing to do.

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  1. Scott Gilmore wrote:

    Good post. Totally agree that hearts and minds or simple gratitude are rarely the medium to long term result of any aid. This was one of the first lessons I learned as a newly minted diplomat while on the ground in southeast Asia.

    I would add another naive (and pragmatic) reason, which is to try and prevent a failed state.

    Posted August 17, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink
  2. I agree here. The best part would be to see the US Armed forces change their strategy and use their presence to actually help people there. Other than that, the “influential folks” should try and not allege the entire nation by calling it a Failed State or something.
    I personally believe that the best practice would be to adopt a new strategy, provide for the flood stricken people along with better and more pleasant ties [with people] to win back credibility.

    Posted August 19, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

5 Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by undispatch, UN Foundation. UN Foundation said: RT @undispatch: great @aidwatch post on why US should give aid 4 #pkfloods. (hint: it's not about winning hearts & minds) […]

  2. […] of any improvement to Pakistani impressions of … Read more from the original source: Wishful thinking on Pakistan Share and […]

  3. […] the earthquake assistance faded quickly without more enduring development programs.“.  As Aidwatch found, this not the first time the US has jilted Pakistan when it needed aid (full research, from the […]

  4. […] Aren’t We Doing Anything for Pakistan, Cont’d. I missed this, but Aid Watchers tackled this question earlier this week, including the implied connection between disaster relief and improving […]

  5. By postcards › Rain Keeps Pourin’ Down on August 19, 2010 at 12:19 am

    […] And by most accounts, aid groups have only reached about 1/6th of people in severe need of help due to flooding. The US government says it’s vital that we contribute to improve the nation’s image in Pakistan, the old hearts and minds approach (however misguided this may be). […]

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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