ISLAMABAD – The United States has failed to demonstrate that a $7.5 billion civilian aid package approved for Pakistan in 2009 has helped address basic needs in the country like electricity, health care and education, said an inspector general's report.
The finding comes as some in the U.S. have questioned the wisdom of lavishing Pakistan with financial assistance given Islamabad's reluctance to target Islamist militants based on its territory who regularly attack American troops in Afghanistan.
Failure to show progress could cause problems within Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment is high and many suspect U.S. aid of simply lining the pockets of corrupt politicians rather than helping the poor. Many of Pakistan's 180 million residents lack access to clean water and effective health care and education. The country also suffers from chronic power shortages that can last up to 18 hours a day.
The massive five-year civilian aid package was meant to help stabilize the nuclear-armed country and also prove the U.S. was interested in more than enlisting Pakistan's cooperation in fighting militants by supplying it with billions of dollars in military support.
But the largest contributor of civilian aid, the U.S. Agency for International Development, has not committed to a way to measure the success of its programs, said the report released Monday which was written by officials at USAID, the State Department and the Defense Department.
"We believe that USAID has an imperative to accumulate, analyze, and report information on the results achieved under its programs," said the report, which covered the period through Dec. 31, 2010. "One year after the launch of the civilian assistance strategy in Pakistan, USAID has not been able to demonstrate measurable progress."
The mission director for USAID in Pakistan, Andrew Sisson, said it was premature to look for significant results since the new aid program only started a year ago, but insisted the organization is gaining momentum.
"We have programs that have been launched and we have more on the books," Sisson said. "Some are close to delivering major results in very difficult areas, such as road projects that are now advancing rapidly in South Waziristan, which was a war zone until recently."
South Waziristan is located in Pakistan's tribal region near the Afghan border and was the main base of the Pakistani Taliban before the army invaded in the fall of 2009.
The U.S. has committed nearly $4 billion to projects in Pakistan since 2009 to help the country address critical infrastructure needs, provide basic services and improve government performance, said the report. But some of that money predated the recent aid package.
The report also found that the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad has failed to come up with a core set of indicators to measure the success of all American development programs in Pakistan run by USAID, the State Department and the Defense Department.
One of the reasons the U.S. has struggled is that the embassy in Islamabad has had difficulty staffing the positions it needs to monitor and run its programs, according to the report. The USAID office at the embassy remained understaffed by more than 20 percent, or 68 positions, as of the end of 2010, it said.
One of USAID's main efforts in Pakistan has been to foster development in parts of the country's tribal region like South Waziristan, where poverty and neglect by the central government have contributed to the rise of Islamist militants. But the initiative has been plagued with problems.
The office of the USAID inspector general conducted audits of two livelihood programs in Pakistan's tribal area during the last quarter of 2010 that were aimed at fostering economic development to counter the rise of extremism.
"The audits found the programs had made little progress in achieving the goal largely because of the hostile environment - the chief of party for one implementing partner was assassinated - but also because of a lack of baseline data and inadequate oversight, which resulted in questioned costs of $767,841," the report said.
Also, USAID terminated its agreement with one implementing partner, the U.S.-based Academy for Educational Development, after an investigation revealed fraud stemming from false statements and claims, it said.
The problems raise questions about how effective future aid will be to Pakistan and whether it is the best use of American taxpayer dollars.
The assistance has done little to persuade Pakistan to concede to Washington's most important demand: launching an offensive in the North Waziristan tribal area that is home to the Haqqani network, a militant group that U.S. officials say poses the greatest danger to American troops in Afghanistan.