British aid to Pakistan funds Zardari’s re-election campaign: expert

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Britain is funding a controversial program of cash handouts in Pakistan, one that stands accused of bank-rolling the re-election of President Asif Ali Zardari and his political party.

The UK is giving £300 million ($455,517,008) of taxpayers’ money to the Benazir Income Support Program, which is allegedly being used to buy support for her widower, Zardari, and his party, the Pakistan People’s Party.

In evidence to a Parliamentary enquiry in the UK, Ehtisham Ahmad, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, said that Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) was pouring money into the scheme that aims to help Pakistani families out of poverty.

The scheme has been hit by allegations of corruption which claim that officials from the Pakistan People’s Party obtained lists of beneficiaries in order to pay follow-up visits.

According to allegations, poor families are told, in these follow up visits, to remember the source of the financial aid when they vote in May’s elections, reported the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday.

Opposition parties have complained that the name of the program leads many people to believe the money comes from Zardari’s family rather than from the wider Pakistani government and foreign aid.

This is nothing more than a scam to “buy votes,” said opposition politician Imran Khan to the Daily Telegraph.

“This is the mechanism - which is funded partly by DFID - to make friends and influence people. This is the re-election campaign of Mr. Zardari, which is funded by [Britain’s] DFID,” continued Ahmad in his statement to the Parliamentary inquisition on Britain’s foreign aid.

Pakistan’s largest opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, said it would overhaul the scheme and rename it the National Support Program in its recently released election manifesto.

In a dossier of allegations, it stated that the program was riddled with “rampant corruption, nepotism and embezzlement.”

Britain’s aid to Pakistan

The UK has rapidly expanded its aid to Pakistan in recent years, the country is on course to become the biggest recipient of British aid. Pakistan is set to receive £450 million ($683,356,887) per year by 2015.

Cash handouts form the key plank of this aid, half of the £300 million given to the Benazir Income Support Program will be given to families to help them out of poverty, the rest will be used to encourage education amongst Pakistan’s youth.

A spokesman for DfID said UK aid to Pakistan was not tainted by politicking.

“Our development assistance is based on need and effectiveness, not politics,” he said. “The Benazir Income Support Program Act was unanimously passed and supported by all political parties in Pakistan.”

Furthermore, “we keep our program in Pakistan under constant review, and will continue to do so after the elections.”

Chief Commissioner of the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Graham Ward, warned of the possible problems with such a hike in British aid to Pakistan.

The “DfID has no track record of delivering programs in Pakistan on the scale that is now contemplated. Delivering aid there also involves considerable challenges, so we believe that the planned program scale-up needs to be approached carefully.”