Monday Jan 10, 2022
LAHORE: Pakistan received the biggest grant-based aid to add to its federal budgets for fiscal years 2018-2020 alone from the United States without having to pay back for it, a senior US diplomat said citing the government's budget documents.
"The US assistance is not based on loans," US Consul-General at Lahore William K. Makaneole said this in an exclusive panel interview with 'The News' and Jang, conducted through email questions and answers.
He said the US partners with six universities on American Spaces called "Lincoln Corners" in Punjab; several exchange programs take Pakistanis to the US who contribute to Pakistan's development with their newly acquired perspective and experience after joining Pakistan-US Alumni Network (PUAN); Pakistan hosts the world's largest Fulbright Program; the US has collaborated on a range of projects in agriculture, livestock, business development/entrepreneurship, education, health, governance, and energy sectors; vocational training has enabled entrepreneurship opportunities for 10,000 youths in four districts of South Punjab; the US believes that all foreign assistance and investment to Pakistan should apply the highest international standards of openness, inclusivity, transparency, and governance; the US remains one of the largest providers of civilian assistance to Pakistan.
Following are the details of the interview:
The News/Jang: What is the current scale of cultural cooperation with Punjab, including between governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.?
US CG: Our Public Affairs Section at the Consulate implements a wide range of cultural and educational programs. We work on projects to conserve cultural heritage, sites such as the restoration of the Wazir Khan Mosque and surrounding areas, and we promote economic opportunities through our exchange programs and support for women entrepreneurs. We empower the youth through sports camps and English language training, and we partner with community colleges in Punjab to collaborate with American counterparts to strengthen higher education.
We partner with six universities on American Spaces in Punjab: Lahore, Faisalabad, Sargodha, Multan, and Vehari. At these American Spaces, called "Lincoln Corners," you can find information about the United States, English language learning opportunities, US 'study abroad' advice, cultural programs, and other activities. Visitors gain free access to Wi-Fi and current and reliable information about the US through books, magazines, videos, internet databases, and programs for the public. Visitors can also access cutting-edge technology like 3D printers, virtual reality headsets, and other Makerspace technology.
We collaborate on several exchange programs to bring Pakistanis to the United States. When the exchange program participants return home, we encourage them to join our Pakistan-US Alumni Network (PUAN), through which they can contribute to the development of Pakistan with their newly acquired perspective and experience. There are over 10,000 alumni across Punjab province - a larger network than in many countries around the world. PUAN selects its own leadership every year through a democratic process and acts as a liaison between the US Mission and the community. The US government contributes seed funding for the alumni to take on projects that benefit their communities.
Lastly, through EducationUSA, we provide free advice to prospective students in Pakistan seeking to study in the United States.
The News/Jang: What cultural exchanges are taking place between Pakistan and the United States.?
US CG: As alluded to above, Pakistan hosts the world's largest Fulbright Program, with 10,000 in Punjab province alone. The program sends Pakistani students to the US every year to further their post-graduate education. Fulbright Scholars return home and apply what they have learned in their respective fields and serve as cultural ambassadors between both countries. In addition to the Fulbright Program, we have various other exchange programs that cater to students and professionals, such as the Global Undergraduate Program, Humphrey Program for Mid-Career Professionals, Study of the US Institutes, and the International Visitor Leadership Program. Through these exchange programs, Pakistan sends nearly 800 students and professionals to the US annually.
The News/Jang: What is the level of economic cooperation between Punjab and the United States, or between Punjab and the US Consulate in Lahore? What kind of economic cooperation is going on in industrial, agricultural, livestock, and other sectors? For example, in the past, the US has provided generators for Pakistan's power plants and supplied Holstein cows for the promotion of livestock.
US CG: In Punjab, for many years, we have collaborated on a range of projects in the agriculture, business development/entrepreneurship, education, health, governance, and energy sectors. The repair and rehabilitation of the Muzaffargarh Thermal Power Station, benefiting an estimated 4.4 million people in Punjab, came out of a close collaboration between the US and Pakistani governments. Improvements in smart metering infrastructure, distribution networks, and off-grid initiatives were also born of this partnership. We also have partners in the dairy, horticulture, and livestock sectors in Punjab. Every collaboration added value generated further income for small farmers and created jobs for rural men and women. We also link women farmers with micro-finance institutions to sustain and grow their businesses.
We have contributed to vocational training that enabled entrepreneurship opportunities for 10,000 youth in four districts of South Punjab. We have offered more than 2,100 scholarships to talented, disadvantaged students in Punjab and partnered with universities to improve their ability to manage financial aid programs. In public health cooperation, along with the Punjab government, we established disease monitoring units in 36 districts and trained healthcare workers to monitor and respond to COVID-19, including installing 46 new ventilators in Punjab hospitals to assist Pakistan's fight against the disease. Our partnership is ongoing through vaccination donations, more than 42 million US-donated doses thus far for use across Pakistan.
The News/Jang: Has the Punjab government directly entered into any joint business/commercial venture or collaboration with the US government, during the PTI government of Imran Khan or Usman Buzdar's government in Punjab.?
US CG: It is the private sector, not governments, that are the real drivers of economic growth. That said though, governments can play an important role in economic development by creating an environment that helps businesses flourish. Companies need predictable and transparent rules and regulations that they can follow. There needs to be effective enforcement of intellectual property rights, which will encourage the development of innovations and entrepreneurialism. There must be true respect for the sanctity of contracts. There must be a fair and equitable tax treatment for companies, both foreign and domestic. The US and other international businesses are attracted to economies that provide opportunities for investment, collaboration, and partnerships. There are plenty of commercial opportunities for foreign investors in Punjab. By highlighting how Punjab is nurturing a business-friendly environment in ways such as these, Punjab will position itself well to become an even more attractive destination for US private sector investment.
The News/Jang: Has Pak-US economic cooperation decreased after Pakistan's enhanced economic CPEC cooperation with China?
US CG: We believe that good governance, long-term capacity building, and market-based approaches that let the private sector flourish, are the best path to sustained growth and development. The US welcomes any investment and trade that promote sustainable, responsible development and growth. Our economic cooperation with Pakistan reflects our vision for the region as one comprised of nations that are independent, strong, and prosperous. Our relationships flow from a spirit of respect and partnership. We also believe all foreign assistance and investment to Pakistan should apply the highest international standards of openness, inclusivity, transparency, and governance.
The News/Jang: What portion of US assistance is grants or aid and what portion is in loans.?
US CG: The US remains one of the largest providers of civilian assistance to Pakistan. We partner with the government of Pakistan on numerous development and assistance projects, aligned with Pakistan's priorities, ranging from health to education to entrepreneurship to energy. In fact, the government of Pakistan budget documents show that the US was the largest single-country contributor of grant-based aid to the federal budget in fiscal years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. US assistance to Pakistan does not consist of loans.
The News/Jang: What steps have been -- or are being - taken to improve the public image of the US in Pakistan.?
US CG: Our partnerships with Pakistani youths and professionals and our alumni network are a great way to build on our relationships and challenge misconceptions about the United States. Punjab is home to a vibrant and engaged US-Pakistan exchange alumni community. Many in this community then partner with us on efforts to address unemployment and encourage entrepreneurship.
At the Consulate, we manage one of the US government's largest social media platforms, reaching over 3.2 million people in English and Urdu. Our hope is that highlighting our contributions to cultural preservation, academic partnership, women's empowerment and entrepreneurship, English language learning, as well as other ways we partner with Pakistan, will show the people of Punjab all that is positive in our bilateral relationship.
Also, our six highly active American Spaces provide people the opportunity to learn about the US for themselves, unfiltered through other narratives.
The News/Jang: Please provide a list of ongoing projects and priority areas of development-related interventions.
US CG: We have several ongoing projects in the areas of cultural preservation and youth development. For example, we support the preservation of historical houses and a tomb on the south side of the Wazir Khan Mosque in the Walled City of Lahore. In another partnership, we promote economic opportunities for women entrepreneurs in Punjab by linking them with business leaders and mentors.
We also partner with the Pakistani government on various law enforcement, rule of law, and corrections programs. These efforts strengthen the police, judicial, and prison sectors in Punjab in pursuit of a more secure and prosperous Pakistan. An example is the construction of women's accommodation barracks at the National Highways and Motorway Police (NHMP) Training College in Sheikhupura, which we plan to inaugurate next month. We also provide training and study tours for Punjabi officials at the working and policy-making level to strengthen knowledge and enhance collaboration. For example, 107 Punjabi corrections officers have attended training in Colorado to learn about prison management best practices. In 2021, five Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) officials from Punjab attended training on anti-money laundering, and 58 law students from Punjab participated in the Jessup Moot Court Competition.
The US and Pakistan have collaborated for 75 years on issues that are important to both nations, including energy, economic growth, peace and inclusion, education, and health. We focus on fostering a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous partnership. Our relationship benefits both countries in trade, climate change, food security, and providing women economic opportunities.
Today, the climate crisis is one of the most pressing challenges we collectively face. To formalize our cooperation with Pakistan on climate issues, Mission Pakistan partnered with the Ministry of Climate Change and the Ministry of Energy to launch two new endeavors, the US-Pakistan Climate and Environment Working Group and the US-Pakistan Energy Dialogue. Next year, we hope to launch the US-Pakistan Health Dialogue, building on our successful partnership in the health arena.
Another example of our assistance is our Merit- and Needs-Based Scholarship Program, which awards scholarships to academically talented but financially needy students for university study.
The program benefits young people from remote and rural areas of Pakistan, including southern Punjab. In September 2021, the program announced 700 new graduate-level scholarships for Pakistani women, which will be awarded to outstanding women students to earn master's degrees in agriculture, business, engineering, health and social sciences.
Originally published in The News