Amid bilateral tensions, USAID backs Afghan, Pakistani progress

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If South Asia is one of the most turbulent and insecure zones in the world and the ever-mounting tension between nuclear-powered neighbors India and Pakistan is a potential cause for catastrophe in the region, the highly volatile and tense situation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is no less worrisome.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a border of around 2,500 kilometers, which runs through mountainous terrain and remains largely unprotected. Recent attempts by Islamabad to establish fences and border posts to curtail the movement of Taliban fighters into Pakistan have been met with stiff resistance from Afghanistan, as Kabul has long had a highly contentious border dispute with Islamabad.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have faced substantial security and governance challenges over the past decade. In countries that are critical to these two nations’ security, their continued efforts toward that end remain vital with a view to ensuring accountability and transparency.

Though the ongoing progress for development in Pakistan and Afghanistan may appear weak, they in fact are working hard to overturn the corruption that is doing them both harm. In Afghanistan, a new accountability initiative has increased the monitoring mechanism inside the country and in Pakistan, an anti-fraud hotline has been established to help stop wasted expenditure and abuse and the misuse of public money.

In February, Islamabad sealed all border crossings with Afghanistan for more than a month after a wave of attacks across Pakistan killed more than 100 people. Those attacks were followed by frequent skirmishes between Pakistani Taliban fighters and Pakistan’s military along the border in the districts of Mohmand, Khyber and adjoining areas.

In Afghanistan, promoting a stable, inclusive, and increasingly prosperous growth objective requires huge expenditure for the building of infrastructure and other requirements. For that purpose, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has formulated a strategy for consolidating the gains made in health, education, women’s empowerment and spurring further economic growth through agriculture and private-sector development, along with supporting accountable, effective, and transparent Afghan governance.

The specific areas of concerns identified by USAID in association with the Afghan government that need urgent attention for overall development of the country are as follows: to check the energy crisis as a major hindrance to economic growth; consolidating economic achievements; to control rampant poverty and persistent backwardness despite many years of rapid growth; to promote a peaceful and secure environment so that people can explore alternatives to extremism and violence, especially on the border with Pakistan; creating and expanding educational opportunities for all so that economic benefits can percolate throughout the country and women can have a more equal role in society; and last but not the least, enhancing the availability of public health systems so as to save the lives of women and children, strengthen families and communities, and help develop a sound and healthy workforce.

In the same way, since 2009, USAID has leveraged Pakistan’s investments to add more than 2,800 megawatts of electrical capacity to ensure enough energy to benefit more than 33 million Pakistanis and spur economic growth. In the past six years, Pakistani business houses have increased their sales by US$170 million and exports by around  $76 million through USAID’s efforts. In addition, since October 2011, more than 36,000 new jobs can be attributed to USAID’s programs.

USAID has worked with the government of Pakistan to build or rehabilitate more than 1,210km of roads, 29 bridges and two tunnels throughout the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan provinces since 2007.

Through its Gender Equity Program in Pakistan, since 2010 USAID has provided shelter, politico-legal protection, health and economic support to nearly 40,000 female victims of gender-based violence so that they could help rebuild their lives.

Indeed, the successful implementation of this particular program have resulted in many impressive and meaningful landmarks in both these countries. In Afghanistan, USAID has helped more than 84,000 girls participate in community-based educational classes, and worked to eliminate the need for Afghan girls to travel long and sometimes dangerous distances to attend school.

More than a million Afghan students now go to school thanks to the assistance provided by USAID, and tens of millions of primary-school pupils have benefited directly from USAID support in the form of new textbooks, teaching by trained teachers and other educational facilities.

About 57% of the Afghan population now lives within a one-hour walking distance of a health facility, up from only 9% in 2002. USAID has also trained more than 2,000 midwives.

In 2002, only 6% of the Afghan population had access to reliable electricity. Today that number has increased to around 30%.

Thus both Afghanistan and Pakistan have benefited much from USAID’s continuing developmental programs toward the welfare of their countrymen, despite suffering from mutual acrimony and differences between the two causing large-scale instability and terrorism in the entire region and also in the whole world. But that must be stopped in the interest of peace and security as a noble service toward humanity, because nothing is beyond human endeavor.

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