Is CGD’s Pakistan Initiative Off the Mark?

January 18, 2012
This is a joint post with and Danny Cutherell.Over on the Global Dashboard blog, Seth Kaplan has posted a critique of CGD’s Pakistan initiative.  In a post titled, “What’s Wrong With CGD’s Pakistan Initiative” Kaplan knocks the CGD Pakistan initiative for saying “almost nothing specific about Pakistan”; “ignoring the “drivers of its political economy”; and relying on “one-size-fits-all solutions.”  As members of CGD’s Pakistan initiative, we welcome Seth’s critique of our work (indeed, we were happy to feature another one of our critics in a previous blog) and take this as an opportunity to clear up any misunderstanding about our approach and findings.First, Seth’s critique emphasizes that the political context in Pakistan is important if one is to understand how best to address the massive development challenges facing the country.  To this, we can only say: “we agree.”  While the final report of the study group did not elaborate in great detail on the political economy of policy reform in Pakistan—and the severe challenges therein—this is something that the study group certainly took into account.  Indeed, Nancy Birdsall and Milan co-authored a report in 2005 (reissued in 2010) on the political economy failures that plagued the World Bank’s efforts to transform Pakistan’s social sectors during the 1990s.  More recently, various team members (past and present) have highlighted how Pakistan’s political problems and institutional weaknesses mean donors need to rethink how they provide aid to Pakistan’s government (see here, for example, on why Pakistan’s political economy makes Cash on Delivery Aid an idea worth exploring). In providing an example of how CGD might be more “specific to the Pakistan context,” Seth praises a recent task force report of the Woodrow Wilson Center for recommending that multilateral donors be responsible for the power sector, because in Pakistan, they have more “experience and expertise.” We couldn’t agree more. In fact, Nancy made the same recommendation in her open letter to the Obama Administration in May 2010. In addition, the fourth recommendation contained in the report of CGD’s study group is to “finance what’s already working”—that is, to work through or with other donors wherever they have better experience or expertise than U.S. development actors.Second, CGD’s work on Pakistan has intentionally focused on the actions and behavior of the donor community, namely the United States.  This is in keeping with CGD’s mission, which is to turn a mirror on the development policies of the wealthy countries and the major donor institutions.  The actions of the Pakistani government are critical, but there is a cottage industry of experts telling Pakistani officialdom what to do on the development front.  CGD launched its Pakistan initiative primarily because Pakistan is an example of how America’s security and development objectives are often in conflict—creating an opening for clear-eyed analysis of how the U.S. government navigates these treacherous waters.  It is true that the initiative has focused on the bureaucratic and congressional politics of assistance to Pakistan here in Washington—but this is a critical niche we do not see other organizations filling.Finally, we feel confident in our recommendations largely because of the constant input of people intimately familiar with Pakistan.  This begins with our study group, which Seth incorrectly claims is “filled with a large number of people who may not necessarily know Pakistan’s political economy.” We beg to differ. The study group includes Pakistani analysts such as Ishrat Husain, Shuja Nawaz and Moeed Yusuf, as well as longtime U.S. students of Pakistan such as Andrew Wilder and Paula Newberg.  In addition, the report benefited from comments from a wide range of Pakistani leaders in government (such as current Minister of Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar and Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaik), civil society (such as Aga Khan Foundation President Karim Alibhai), the media (including GEO TV exec Mir Ibrahim Rahman), and the private sector (Asad Umar, Chairman of the Pakistan Business Council, hosted a private roundtable for our team when they were in Karachi).  Finally, one of the advantages of undertaking an initiative such as this is that we are able to learn from Pakistani colleagues who pass through DC on an almost weekly basis.  Indeed, shortly after the devastating floods of 2010 CGD hosted Minister Shaik for a private breakfast with members of Washington’s Pakistan policy community and U.S. government representatives.We thank Seth for his post and hope to continue engaging with him and others in the policy community concerned about the future of Pakistan and the role the United States can play now and in the future.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.