July 20, 2011; Source: Washington Post | The Obama Administration is requiring NGOs delivering aid in Pakistan, including in the very dangerous semiautonomous tribal regions, to make sure Pakistanis know that the aid comes from the United States. In the wake of the recent operation by U.S. Navy SEALs against Osama bin Laden, the U.S. ranks at the low end of Pakistani opinion polls. So to “win hearts and minds in Pakistan,” the USAID is requiring NGOs to advertise the funding behind their services and increasingly denying requests for exemptions.
Eleven nonprofits joined with InterAction, an alliance of U.S.-based NGOs, in a letter to USAID asking that the agency not require U.S. branding of aid. One unnamed U.S. official in Pakistan explained, “our mandate is to make sure people here know that they are receiving American assistance.” A VP at InterAction, Joel Charny, described the contradiction of U.S. officials sitting in a fortified embassy in Islamabad telling NGOs operating in dangerous tribal areas not to worry about security issues. U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter apparently decided, though one has to assume with approval from higher-ups in the State Department, that the U.S. flag would be added to the logo “USAID: From the American People” that brands NGO projects, to ensure that illiterate Pakistanis got the message.
The NGOs’ concerns aren’t hypothetical or speculative, given that the Pakistani Taliban has killed UN aid workers in 2009 and World Vision employees in 2010. Does USAID branding help the U.S. image in Pakistan? It is difficult to separate the impact of aid with the impact of “branded” aid on Pakistani recipients’ attitudes toward the U.S. and the West.
The Associate Press article mentions an odd example of aid branding in Pakistan that one can only wonder if it helps, hurts, or simply makes Pakistanis laugh. One aid program involves giving livestock to families in the Swat Valley who have been affected by Taliban and Pakistani army violence. The AP discovered that the livestock were all wearing USAID tags around their necks, with messages such as “This goat is from the people of America.” The AP didn’t mention whether the goats, in order to comply with Ambassador Munter’s requirement, were branded with the red, white, and blue.—Rick Cohen