Wednesday, August 4

Mired in corruption, inept State Dept. and USAID now want Americans to donate to relief of Pakistan's flood victims (UPDATED 9 PM ET)

9 PM Update: Added several links and additional material
Meanwhile, Pakistan's President "fiddles while Pakistan drowns."

From the (U.K.) Telegraph's August 3, 2010 report, Asif Ali Zardari: life and style of Pakistan’s Mr 10 Per Cent:
[President Zardari] is said to have interests in three properties in London, but it was his ownership of 335-acre Rockwood House in the North Downs in Surrey that came to symbolize his wealth and ambition. He is said to have bought the £4  million mock Tudor pile partly because he had fallen in love with the local pub, the Dog and Pheasant.

When the landlord refused to sell him the pub, he is said to have had a replica built in the basement of the house. The property also boasted polo pitches, a stud farm and a golf course. Faced with claims that he had bought the house with money made illegally, he denied he was even the owner, asking: “How can anyone think of buying a mansion in England when people in Pakistan don’t even have a roof over their heads?”

It was only after the house had been sold and the Pakistani authorities tried to seize some of the money that he acknowledged his ownership.
The essays that put Pundita on the map -- at least, in Europe -- were two 2005 posts in which I nominated, only half in jest, Eliot Spitzer for President of the World Bank. This was years before Spitzer's little problem with an extramarital affair; at the time he was a 'lynching prosecutor' who'd gone after big-time white collar criminals with such zeal that just the mention of his name was enough to strike terror in the hearts of Wall Street denizens.

That made him the World Bank President this country, and the world's downtrodden, needed. I figured that within three months of arriving at the Bank Spitzer would call in an army of forensic accountants. That would lead to yellow police tape being wrapped entirely around the perimeter of World Bank and State Department headquarters buildings in Washington, DC.

Then would come the perp walks, with Bank and State employees throwing their jackets over their heads as the international press corps snapped photos and CNN cameras rolled.

Of course all that was a complete fantasy. The Bank is an international institution, virtually beyond the reach of the U.S. Department of Justice. And the day federal warrants are served at State will be the day hell freezes.

Instead of Eliot Spitzer the World Bank got Paul Wolfowitz, a man whose intellectual brilliance is more than matched by his naivete. The Bank's Mandarins took one look at his anti-corruption drive then with State cheering them on chewed him up and spat him out in the form of thumb tacks.

The only reason I called for donations to Haiti's earthquake victims is that I knew State and USAID would have very little control over the bulk of the money, and that the earthquake had delivered a decapitation strike to Haiti's corrupt regime. With so little functioning government in the country, international aid organizations were able, in large measure, to avoid the kind of red tape in Haiti that funnels much donation money to corrupt local government officials. My concern is that this will not be so in the case of Pakistan's flood victims.

All that is another way of saying don't be a fool.

If I knew of any good grass roots organizations in Pakistan I'd say that if you want to donate, then go through those. There are a few such organizations that are not run by the terrorists, but I don't know their names.

The perennial problem in international relief work is that it's a G2G affair -- government to government. The donations you send to Red Cross or Red Crescent or Oxfam, etc. do not go directly from those organizations to victims of a disaster. The organizations have to go through the afllicted country's government. It's the same with governments that provide official aid to the country; it first passes through the red tape and its distribution is under control of the local government.

As to the U.S. regime using American tax dollars in the attempt to use flood relief aid to win Pakistani hearts and minds, as State is now doing -- short of armed insurrection there is no way Americans can change the way things work in Washington, and I'm not sure even insurrection would work. There's simply too much money to be made from contracts connected with international aid relief to impose any more than cosmetic changes on the system.

And in the case of Pakistan, State and USAID are not even capable of monitoring corruption in Afghanistan, which has only the most rudimentary bureaucracy.(1) Decades ago Pakistan's regime turned fleecing international aid and development institutions into an art form, which entailed setting up sophisticated and elaborate bureacratic machinery. State's perennial argument is that they can't deal effectively with such situations because its understaffed and underfunded. First I want to see the perp walks, then I'll consider the argument.

Before State took it over USAID was perfectly capable of developing and overseeing good projects in the developing world, including Pakistan, and without a huge budget and staff.(2)

U.S. aid to Pakistan's earthquake victims in 2005 backfired; it served to create more anti-American feelings among Pakistanis. State's reply is that this time it will be different because they're going to throw even more money to helping Pakistanis in the present disaster, and they're going to make the assistance long term. That reply takes us into Red Queen logic, which I refuse to debate on the grounds that I'm not Alice.

There is another factor to consider. Out of all the press that covered a recent terrorist attack inside Pakistan, only the New York Times reported that the organization that was handing out crutches and wheelchairs when the terrorists struck was USAID. The terrorists inside Pakistan and Afghanistan are fighting USAID tooth and nail, with the most needy Pakistanis and Afghans caught in the crossfire.

The U.S. military has diverted some helicopters from the Afghan campaign to help with the rescue of thousands of Pakistanis trapped by the floodwaters and overseen the distribution of hundreds of thousands of (halal) meals to flood victims.

ISAF can't really spare the helicopters but I don't begrudge any of that type of help. Yet that's where U.S. help should end, beyond pressing the international community to take on the burden of flood relief aid in Pakistan. Tehran sent its condolences to Pakistan's people. Tehran can cough up a few thousand dollars, blankets, tents, and so on. Ditto for many other countries.

Meanwhile --
Asif Ali Zardari is fiddling while Pakistan drowns
by Con Coughlin
(U.K.) Telegraph, August 4, 2010

Pakistan has had to endure more than its fair share of disasters, but even by its harsh standards, the floods that have driven millions of people from their homes, and killed at least 1,700, qualify as a tragedy.

In such circumstances, you might expect Asif Ali Zardari, the country's president, to abandon his European tour and return home at the earliest opportunity to assume personal control of the relief operation – such as it is. The military's failure to organise the evacuation has left entire communities stranded, while the authorities' wider inability to deal with the floods' aftermath has led to outbreaks of cholera in the Swat valley.

[Pundita note: that's not the half of it; the regime didn't even bother to warn Pakistanis downstream that the floods were on their way.]

And yet Mr Zardari displays no inclination to return home, even though David Cameron's injudicious comments about Pakistan's ambivalent approach to fighting terrorism provided him with the perfect excuse. [Pundita note: the remarks weren't injudicious but that doesn't invalidate the writer's point]

His officials insist that he is leaving the crisis in the capable hands of his prime minister, Yousef Raza Gilani, while he presses on with his equally important diplomatic mission to France and Britain to discuss global security issues.

But the reality is that Mr Zardari has a very different agenda – which is why, after spending a convivial few days at his family's opulent chateau in northern France, he and his entourage have taken up residence in London's Churchill hotel. They will then travel to Chequers for talks with Mr Cameron, before concluding their visit with the highlight of the entire tour, at least as far as Mr Zardari is concerned – a massive rally in honour of his eldest son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto.

Under Pakistan's constitution, Bilawal, who will be 22 next month and has just completed a history degree at Oxford University, is not allowed to run for office until he is 25. But ever since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by a suicide bomber in the garrison town of Rawalpindi in December 2007, Mr Zardari, her husband, has been determined to ensure that Bilawal becomes the latest in a long line of Bhuttos to lead the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party.

The fortunes of the 700,000-strong Bhutto clan have fluctuated wildly since the PPP was founded by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's first elected prime minister, in 1967. His government collapsed amid allegations of corruption in 1977, and he was hanged two years later under martial law. Benazir was only 24 at the time of her father's death. Initially, she was placed under house arrest, but in 1984 made her way to London, where she became the PPP's leader-in-exile.

She returned in triumph following the mysterious death in a helicopter crash of General Zia al-Haq, the country's military dictator, and fulfilled her life-long ambition of becoming prime minister in 1988. The previous year she had married Mr Zardari, the son of a wealthy tribal leader from Sindh. When she was forced out of office in 1990, Mr Zardari found himself at the centre of corruption allegations surrounding a variety of property deals.

Although Mr Zardari has always protested his innocence, he spent a total of 11 years in jail – many of them in solitary confinement. Even after his release, rumours swirled that he had acquired a fortune worth £1 billion, including homes in France and Britain. For years, Mr Zardari denied ownership of a 335-acre estate in Surrey, until his stake in the property was revealed when it was sold.

In the light of Mr Zardari's controversial past, it is unlikely that he would ever have become president had it not been for his wife's dramatic assassination. Even then, other factions within the family believed they had a better claim, including Mumtaz Bhutto, the 77-year-old clan leader who had previously opposed Benazir's accession.

To keep the rival factions at bay, Mr Zardari worked hard to safeguard the position of his eldest son. And it is to this end that, rather than returning home to rally his country in its hour of need, he will be attending Saturday's 3,000-strong rally in Birmingham, where Bilawal is to make his first political speech.

For the past two-and-a-half years, Mr Zardari, who shares the chairmanship of the PPP with his son, has effectively acted as a regent. Soon, he is expected to stand down as the PPP's co‑chairman, opening the way for Bilawal to become its undisputed leader.

The importance of Saturday's rally lies in the fact that the majority of the 1.2 million Pakistanis resident in Britain support the PPP, not least because it has always taken care to protect the interests of Britain's Pakistani immigrants, as well as taking a hard-line position on Kashmir. The British Government, for its part, has quietly lent its support because of the party's perceived pro-Western stance.

But beyond the power politics, Saturday's rally is a microcosm of the wider problem that afflicts Pakistan. By attending, Mr Zardari will help to secure the PPP's leadership for his son – yet in doing so, he will, like so many before him, be putting clan before country. And few in Pakistan will easily forget the image of their president's helicopter leaving the elegantly manicured lawns of his French villa at a time when millions of his countrymen have been deprived of homes of their own.

[Pundita note: According to Pakistan's Nation the villa actually belongs to Zardari's father but somehow I don't think the majority of Pakistani flood victims read the rag.] And from The Telegrah I quoted at the start of this post, Zardari surely paid for the villa even if the deed is in his father's name.

1) Reuters, April 1, 2010; Jonathan Burch: Where has all the Afghan aid gone?

2) From Harper's 2008 interview with Ahmed Rashid:
HARPER'S: You note that the effort to rebuild Afghanistan after the invasion had the benefit of many of the “best and the brightest,” but you’re also sharply critical of U.S. efforts, which you describe as incompetent or perhaps corrupt.

You contrast the USAID you remember from your childhood [in Pakistan], when it was very active in Pakistan, with the current USAID, which seems to exist to dole out contracts to cronies and which places millions of dollars in the hands of a group from California that wants to build California-style schoolhouses in Afghanistan, where the weight of the snowfall would crush them. The Bush Administration argues that contracts are more cost-efficient and more reliable than a government-run effort. How do you rate the performance of USAID in Afghanistan?

AHMED RASHID: USAID has been one of the biggest disappointments in the entire effort to combat extremism and it has contributed to the way many people see the United States in the Muslim world today. It’s sad to say this of an organization that is supposed to do good around the world. In Afghanistan it has made few friends amongst any of the important stakeholders: the Afghan government; the UN; other international donor and aid agencies; NGOs–almost anyone else. The Bush Administration has essentially run USAID into the ground, even though the rot started much earlier in the Clinton administration when it was merged into the State Department, its staff and budget were drastically cut, and it ceased to house any kind of professional staff in the field of development.

Today it is a bureaucracy that signs checks–usually to “for profit” beltway bandits–consultancies and companies that have no essential knowledge about countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan, and sub-contract their work to others. In the past USAID was filled with committed professional engineers or water or agricultural specialists who devised projects, implemented them, and then monitored their progress. Those people are gone now. This is not to criticize some of the very good people who work for the organization, but its role has essentially been destroyed by this administration. Help could be on the way, for U.S. think tanks, Congress, and leading Democrats have been up front in criticizing the performance of USAID and demanding change. I hope the next administration will take these criticisms seriously. ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do any of these people have souls?
This is beyond criminal.