Pakistan is the sort of place where you might not always want to advertise your links to the US. In the past month, American helicopters have killed two Pakistani soldiers, the CIA has stepped up its drone strikes in the tribal areas and thousands of people have demonstrated against the imprisonment of Aafia Siddiqui.
So if you were, say, a Western aid worker you might a few reservations about delivering goods with a nice red, white and blue logo with a row of stars and stripes on it…
Anyway this is what the good people at USAID are insisting on. Inevitably, charities tried to avoid displaying it too prominently – and maybe US officials were prepared to turn a blind eye – but that was until Richard Holbrooke visited and expressed his concern that the US was not getting sufficient credit for the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid being poured into Pakistan.
As a result, charities have been reminded of their obligation to use the logo. Although there are waivers for the most dangerous areas (Khyber Pakhtunkwa and Fata) they have been told these will be reviewed after 120 days. And none is being awarded for anywhere else.
Some of the problems with this are set out by Samuel Worthington of Interaction in The Washington Post. Such is the strong feeling among aid agencies that some – including, I understand, Oxfam – are prepared to give up millions of dollars in funding rather than risk more lives. As I report in The Daily Telegraph today, some of the aid world’s biggest names have put together a strongly-worded response to USAID policy, urging that Washington follows other major donors (the EU’s Echo and the UK’s DfID) in dropping branding in Pakistan. They argue:
We recommend that there should be no US branding at this present moment in Pakistan. There is no security analysis to support that a shift to branding aid in Pakistan will mitigate risk for INGO staff, partners and beneficiaries. Instead, there are strong indicators that branding will attract violent attacks for both economic and ideologically-motivated reasons. Branding in flood-affected areas must not be used as a test-case because the outcomes are likely to be fatal and impact on the longer-term ability of humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance in Pakistan. As an alternative, we propose that a communications strategy be developed by all key parties, with the aim of improving US visibility among the various target audiences.
But there’s a problem with dropping branding in regions of insecurity. Aid is increasingly being used overtly as a tool of foreign policy. As USAID makes clear, development has been added to diplomacy and defence as key tactics of national security. Britain’s DfID under Andrew Mitchell has followed suit, tying development assistance to foreign policy goals. But if you can’t brand aid in places such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia or Sudan, then part of its power in winning hearts and minds has been lost.
So far, American officials have been pretty bullish about the policy. Hillary Clinton even questioned the courage of aid workers, saying they were “afraid” to be associated with the US.
But it is not a question of courage. The aid workers I know are aware of the risks they face. Many here in Pakistan here now knew Linda Norgrove, who was kidnapped and killed in Afghanistan. It is a question of knowing the limits of acceptable risks. Using a stars and stripes logo lies on the wrong side of stupid.
If it was a question of courage, then none of them would leave Islamabad in anything other than a bulletproof car – which is the only way American diplomats are allowed to travel.