(WONKCAST SPECIAL EDITION) Why U.S. Aid to Pakistan Still Makes Sense: Nancy Birdsall

Why U.S. Aid to Pakistan Still Makes Sense: Nancy Birdsall

Why are we providing some $1.5 billion per year in development assistance to a country that couldn’t be bothered to find bin Laden? Now that Osama is dead, what the heck are we still doing in Pakistan?

On this special edition of the Global Prosperity Wonkcast I asked these provocative questions of Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development.
For the past year, Nancy has led a high-level study group evaluating the U.S. development strategy in Pakistan, and has written a series of open letters. One of the main themes of the work has been that the United States should be modest and cautious about what development aid to Pakistan can achieve. Nonetheless, following a recent trip to Pakistan, and notwithstanding U.S. suspicions that elements of Pakistan’s security forces might have been complicit in hiding Bin Laden, Nancy maintains that sustaining aid to Pakistan is in the United States’ own national interest.

“U.S. aid to Pakistan is not a reward for good behavior,” says Nancy. “We have to think about aid as an investment in the future of U.S. security. If you keep in mind the proposed $1.5 billion a year represents less than what we spend in Afghanistan in a week, than you get the point.”

But how can we ensure our aid actually helps to make Pakistan more stable and prosperous, thus perhaps averting a future crisis? Nancy shares some recommendations from the study group’s forthcoming report on how the money should be spent. Being much more transparent about how we are spending the aid, and investing it in proven programs, such as certain educational efforts, will not only increase the impact of our giving but may also help make Pakistanis more willing partners, she says.

At the end of the interview, I ask Nancy if she sees any signs that Pakistan is heading in the right direction. She says progress in Pakistan is often overlooked by a tragedy-hungry media chasing sensational stories.

“There is a very active press and millions of people actively engaged in civil society organizations on building democracy from the bottom up,” says Nancy. “These are concrete first steps towards building a more accountable, more democratic system. We think that’s important, it doesn’t make headlines, but it’s important.”

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week. My thanks to Will McKitterick for his production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and for assistance in drafting this blog post.