US aid program stalls in Pakistani tribal areas

By Chris Brummitt
Associated Press / January 30, 2010

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A $46 million American development program in Pakistan’s tribal regions has made little progress since it began in 2008, according to a government audit that shows the challenges facing Washington as it prepares to boost aid there to blunt the appeal of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Also in the Afghan border region, security forces fought militants yesterday in a third day of battles that the government said had killed 44 suspected insurgents. The clashes occurred in Bajur, an area the Pakistani Army declared free of militants in early 2009 after a major offensive.

Pakistan has launched a series of operations against militants in the tribal regions, pushing them back in some areas. But the United States wants the army to continue pressing the fight because Taliban fighters in Afghanistan use the region as base from which to attack NATO and US forces. It says stabilizing Pakistan and getting it to crack down on militants in the northwest is key to success in Afghanistan, where Washington is sending 30,000 extra troops in a final attempt to turn around the war.

As well as urging force, the Obama administration has authorized the dispersal of $7.5 billion in development assistance from US taxpayers over the next five years to convince Pakistanis their interests are best served by the state, not by extremists.

The $46 million program audited by the office of the inspector general was set up to strengthen government institutions and local aid groups in the tribal regions. It is training staff, installing computer systems, and running other projects that should help future aid money be spent more effectively.

The program is being run by Development Alternatives Inc., a US firm that won the contract offered by the US Agency for International Development.

The audit, dated Jan. 28 and posted on the USAID website, found that “little real progress’’ toward the program’s stated goals had been made in the first 22 months of the 36-month program. It said the program had spent only $15.5 million.

It also said a plan to install computers and train staff to use them at the tribal region’s secretariat in the northwestern city of Peshawar had barely gotten off the ground, noting 340 of the 400 computers delivered there remained in boxes and unused.