As Pakistan’s new government is facing foreign debt payment crisis and weighing various options for a bailout package, including going to IMF, writers and academics question such arrangements, the effectiveness of “assistance” and “development models” offered by the capitalist world through their financial institutions to the developing states.
“The American model for development after World War-II was utterly incongruent with the social, economic, political and institutional ground realities in Pakistan,” Professor Nipa Banerjee, a senior fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences at the School of International Development and Global Studies at Ottawa University, Canada, said.
“For this very reason, American and Pakistan’s ruling elites’ solution of throwing money for alleviation of poverty did not have much success,” she remarked, while speaking at the launching ceremony of Dr Fayyaz Baqir’s book “Poverty Alleviation and Poverty of Aid—Pakistan” at Fauteux Hall of the Ottawa University, the other .
The event, jointly organised by the Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC) and the School of International Development and Global Studies (SIDGS), was well attended by the academics, students and local Pakistani community.
Dr Banerjee, who has done extensive research on foreign aid, its effectiveness, development issues in south and south-east Asia as well as in Afghanistan, said that Baqir’s book offered a brilliant expose of how international assistance operated in Pakistan, and how the measures undertaken for poverty reduction fell short of addressing the major issues that needed attention.
Baqir’s report on how external economic assistance was squandered in Pakistan brings to light the dangers that come with exporting a Western model of development and transplanting it in a non-Western environment, she remarked.
With respect to the central theme of his book, using stories of development and historical and conceptual analyses, Baqir provides a rich account of how Pakistan’s key problem has not been lack of financial resources but of efficient and effective use of the resources, Banerjee said.
Through outlining the mechanisms used, and the factors that contributed to the underutilisation of foreign aid, the author makes a credible argument with respect to how foreign aid did not only fail to reduce poverty but it may have exacerbated poverty conditions, in certain instances, she further said.
Banerjee said parts of Baqir’s reflections resemble those of Dambisa Moyo in the book, “Dead Aid”.
This book helps fill the knowledge deficit of planners with the author relating five fascinating development stories in Pakistan, Dr Banerjee said.
“In this respect, Baqir’s work resonates with me because of my own work experience as a practitioner over several years in several developing countries, wherein I have seen international community’s assistance failing when imposed, without consultation with the beneficiaries, and succeeding when well-aligned with people’s wishes, needs and assets,” she concluded.
Speaking on the occasion, the author said, “Many years of development practice experience made me realise that the development assistance agencies (government and non-government, local or international) found it cumbersome to use practices which are in the best interest of the recipient countries and low-income communities”.
He argued that poverty alleviation and planning programmes for the poor lie in minutely analysing poor people’s solutions to their own problems. But this is hardly ever done.
The knowledge deficit that exists in this area cannot be filled with more money supplies to the government or the civil society, Baqir, who started his career as programme monitoring officer at the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) in 1987, worked for the Trust for Voluntary Organizations (TVO) and UNDP as grant manager for CBOs, NGOs, and local government authorities. Aga Khan Rural Support Program, argued.
Gaining better understanding and knowledge of the ground realities and needs of the poor are the pre-requisites for developing strategies that can help the deprived communities to meet their own priorities.
Sharing his 40 years’ experience in development sector, Baqir said: “Development assistance practices ranged from good to bad and ugly.”
“While fancy terms like sustainable development, result-based management, aid effectiveness, aid inclusive governance, were widely in use, development assistance agencies found it cumbersome to use practices, which were in the best interest of the recipient countries and low-income communities,” he remarked.
Pakistan received billions of dollars in economic assistance, but was not able to pay even the interest on soft loans it received, Baqir said, who was working as the UN Resident Coordinator office’s as senior adviser for civil society in 2006. During these years he traveled to every nook and corner of Pakistan and served in an advisory position with the central government and civil society organizations.
“This compelled me to think, observe and understand where things go wrong? Why economic assistance makes us dependent on further assistance? The result of years of my work led to formulation of views expressed in this book,” the author said, who has taught and researched on human rights and informal justice at the School of European and International Public Law at Tilburg University, Netherlands in 2014-15. His practice and academic interests include participatory development, human rights, aid effectiveness, poverty alleviation, and social accountability.
“It sets me to lifetime work to understand the limitations of conventional development ideology and find best practices that give us hope. This book is a result of this labor of love,” Dr Baqir said, who has been a visiting scholar on Gender, State and Civil Society Relations at the Department of Cultural Sciences of the Gothenburg University, Sweden.
Dr Baqir co-designed and taught cross-border video-conference-based courses in partnership with the American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS) on themes relating to Justice and Peace, Social Change and Human Development in Pakistan for Georgetown University, Harvard University, Wellesley College and Fatima Jinnah University.
Earlier, he served as Senior Adviser on Civil Society for the United Nations in Pakistan. He received a ‘Top Contributors Award’ from the UNDP’s Global Poverty Reduction Network in 2007 and 2008. He served as National Coordinator of UNDP’s flagship small grants programmes from 1993-2005. Due to the extraordinary performance of these small grants programmes, he received an ‘Outstanding Performance Award’ by the UNDP Country Office in 2004, for creating a vibrant small grants program for low-income communities in Pakistan.
Their presentations were followed by a lively question and answer session