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Donor glare on Pak aid use

Islamabad, Oct. 3: A key American donor has asked Pakistan to ensure that grants for the social sector are not diverted to repay debt.

The US Assistance for International Development (USAID) made its priorities clear during a series of meetings with officials here.

“There is a lot of interest from Pakistan’s finance ministry in debt retirement but we are interested in social sector projects and development,” the head of the USAID mission to Pakistan, Mark S. Ward, said.

Ward conceded that Pakistani and USAID officials have yet to hammer out a formula on what portion of the $1.5-billion American economic assistance should be allocated for debt retirement by Islamabad.

“There is a number we are trying to agree on,” Ward said of the talks with Pakistani officials. The discussions came against the backdrop of reports from Washington that a section of the US administration feels that one way to fight terrorism and tone down radical pan-Islamism was to invest in education in countries like Pakistan.

The USAID, a tool for socio-political assistance to developing countries, has granted around $100 million for Pakistan’s education reforms.

The agency is also supporting a PhD scholarship programme for the country’s two dozen state-run universities. Pakistan, which has only around 5,000 PhDs, adds some 250 PhDs annually, but a new programme envisages 1,200 PhD enrolments every year.

Primary education also remains a focal point. “An assistance of $100 million will exclusively be used for reforms and promotion of primary education,” Atta-ur-Rehman, the chairman of the higher education commission, said.

The commission was set up in November 2002 to transform the education sector, mainly by focusing on bringing public and private universities on a par with foreign education institutions.

Since resuming its operations in Pakistan in July last year, the USAID has signed agreements on education, health, governance and assistance to 20 social sector projects.

The largest project is rehabilitation of 130 schools in tribal areas administered by the federal government. The USAID is concentrating here on capacity building and rehabilitating existing schools.

This, officials hope, could also help in weaning poor students away from religious seminaries, numbering some 10,000 across Pakistan, which provide free education, food and lodging.

Pakistan has also been promised a $3-billion aid package, pending approval by the Congress.

The assistance will come over five years with equal shares for economic projects and defence purchases.

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