Foreign funding - both impediment and facilitator of civil-military cooperation

NGOs benefitting from foreign sources of funding were found to be particularly perceived with suspicion by the military, government, society, academia and media, particularly Urdu media. While it is acknowledged that some of the NGOs benefitting from foreign funding are doing good work, one participant highlighted that many ordinary citizens and even high-level politicians believe that “CSOs aided by foreign money are very insidious, undermining, subversive” (Interview Participant #26, Senior Government Representative). The prevalent attitudes are that in some cases, foreign funding is a channel of foreign influence, possibly with a hidden purpose, aimed at benefitting the donor or Western countries. One military respondent explicitly expressed concerns that foreign-funded organisations might work for intelligence agencies abroad (Interview Participant #44, Senior Military Representative). This assumption has fortified in the public opinion after the CIA operation in Abbottabad to apprehend Osama bin Laden with the alleged support of the US-funded organisation Save the Children.

The mixed attitudes towards NGOs were also aided by the lack of thorough evidence related to their impact. While the generalised opinion is that NGOs have a mixed impact on peace and security, as shown in Chapter 7, there are no robust studies analysing the effects of specific projects. In the absence of robust studies analysing the impact of foreign funding on security, peace and development in Pakistan, it is felt that foreign funding can influence the work and impact of NGOs in a rather negative way. This is because the “international community and Western countries have different mechanisms” and values, e.g. women empowerment, which are sometimes believed to clash with local culture (Interview Participant #11, Senior Media Representative). Framing the issue in European-like models and terminology might be aversive to both local and security institutions. “They perceive, if they are foreign-injected, that they have Western perspectives and are not thinking in nationalistic perspective”, and this might constitute an impediment in policy formulation, considers one interview participant (Interview Participant #35, Senior NGO Representative). NGOs receiving international funding are perceived to create a “foreign type of environment” or even “division” (Interview Participant #2, Senior NGO Representative) within the predominantly conservative Pakistan society. One senior military respondent reckoned that due to corruption at a donor level, between 40% and 90% of the funding returns to the donor (Interview Participant #46, Senior Military Representative).

On the other side, funding is found to be a catalyser of organisations’ expertise, capacity and impact. In 2015, Pakistan was the third greatest receiver of official development assistance (ODA) by OECD countries after the Syrian Arab Republic and Afghanistan (OECD 2019), and among the top ten ODA recipients in other years. Figure 8.1 shows the correlation between net ODA (in US dollars) and annual gross domestic product growth in Pakistan (measured as GDP per capita, in billion US dollars) between 1990 and 2015. ODA is usually complemented by a series of other funding sources, e.g. from the United States, Japan or EU countries, political parties or agencies of international organisations.

There seems to be a link between the net ODA amount received by Pakistan between 1990 and 2015 and economic growth, operationalised as

Net Official Development Assistance and GDP Per Capita (1990-2015) [Data

Figure 8.1 Net Official Development Assistance and GDP Per Capita (1990-2015) [Data: World Bank. Author’s own illustration, scatterplot generated in Stata]

GDP per capita, in the same period. The selected period of time (25 years) is likely to capture any lagged effects. Notwithstanding that there can be many other intervening factors, when the amount of ODA increased, the GDP per capita also increased, suggesting that donor funding could be correlated with a positive effect on the economic growth in Pakistan. In 2017, circa 57% of the financial assistance was allocated in the social sector, while 22% went to the economic (development) sector (OECD 2019: 13). This implies that foreign funding can enhance capacity, despite the perceived negative or mixed impact. Funding can be essential for project sustainability, as one respondent emphasised: “The CSO can only bring a minimal impact, but everything is finished when funding is finished” (Interview Participant #30, Senior NGO Representative).

The negative perception towards foreign funding can be amplified by trust deficiencies between the military and NGOs. This can be owed to both civilian- and military-related factors. Among civilian-related factors, the organisations’ level of substantiveness and commitment is found to play an important role. In order to increase the potential of collaboration with the military and local communities, NGOs must provide “mature”, “noncontradictory, not duplicated, not-flawed” input (Interview Participants #5, Senior NGO Representative and Participant #37, Senior Academia

Representative). NGOs are in many cases viewed by the military, politicians and public as “lazy, corrupt, interested in own welfare”, argues one participant (Interview Participant #46, Senior Military Representative). Moreover, local actors’ approach needs to fit to the general discourse and mindset of people, which is a narrative of unity and simultaneously diversity in Pakistan, affirms another respondent (Interview Participant #5, Senior NGO Representative). This finding is in line with the existing literature on institutional change (Mahoney and Thelen 2009: 16) arguing that resonance with existing norms, practices and believes is more likely to bring about the transformation that agents of change envisage than a rigid approach embracing radical change or removal of old norms and the introduction of new ones. Failure to comply with the ‘mood of the masses’ would likely have polarising effects and non-state organisations could be perceived as interferes with this unity, if they attempted to introduce new, alien things.

I NGOs are found to have partly greater operational capacity. Public engagement and communication strategies as well as project management expertise facilitate I NGOs to understand the importance of integrating the military in their work. The level of cooperation might vary in function of the country of the donor or with which the organisation is affiliated. Good diplomatic relations between Pakistan and the donor country, e.g. Japan or Germany, are likely to facilitate organisations or think tanks from those countries in entering collaborative partnerships with the military. Nonetheless, there have recently been cases in which organisations from the countries with which Pakistan has good foreign relations were subject to non-extension of visa for some of their staff or non-allocation of permission, i.e. No Objection Certificate (NOC), to work in certain areas in Pakistan, outlining once again the variation in military responses. Transparency about the objectives and approaches of non-government organisations as well as the impact of their projects could increase the military’s preferences to enter partnerships.

Interestingly, negative perception or opposition towards foreign funding was found to diminish significantly in the case of activities conducted in the development sector, particularly when the military is involved, e.g. through providing local security or as a stakeholder in the implementation phase of the project. In one case, the military accepted donor funding for the construction of the Kurram Tangi Dam in North Waziristan Agency of FATA (which is one of the regions particularly restricted for NGO projects), under the circumstances that the funding is also contracted to a military organisation, i.e. the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) (Daily Times 2017). The FWO is a military construction engineering organisation founded in 1966. The Kurram Tangi Dam project was implemented in cooperation with the government-owned Water and Power Development Authority and constitutes an example of civil-military cooperation.

In conclusion, funding and capacity seem to be often interrelated, with staff training and transparent project assessment and management strategies being the major determinants of project outputs. Conversely, the lack of appropriate approaches or resources to engage with local communities might have the opposite effects.

The next sub-section analyses the government and institutional capacity as a determinant of civil-military relations.

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