Historically, Pakistan has been a priority country for the UK’s development spending; between 2015 and 2019 it was the largest single recipient of bilateral UK Official Development Assistance (ODA). However, UK aid funding to the country has been cut dramatically, and it has now fallen to seventh in the list of UK bilateral aid recipients after experiencing the largest single cut of any country budget. Pakistan is a country with huge potential. With a smaller budget, the FCDO must focus its aid spending in a highly strategic manner that seeks to realise the opportunities within the country for development.
Through our inquiry, we heard that marginalised groups (such as women and girls and religious minorities) face barriers within Pakistan, inhibiting their prospects for development. These barriers are especially strong for women and girls from minority communities. This not only holds back the potential of these groups, but also slows down Pakistan’s broader development.
We heard how UK aid has created positive change in Pakistan through projects focused on girls’ education and women’s economic empowerment. But the gains of these projects have been compromised by a dual hit of the covid-19 pandemic increasing need and cuts to UK ODA spending reducing the funding available to tackle these problems. These cuts are at odds with core UK Government development policy objectives.
We recommend that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office should use its aid programming strategically in Pakistan to focus upon reaching the most marginalised groups. We encourage the FCDO to fund programmes such as education and economic empowerment for women and girls in the most hard-to-reach communities, as well as programmes that reinforce this work (for example programmes focused upon nutrition and sexual and reproductive health). We also recommend that the FCDO directs aid spending towards programmes to improve the treatment of religious minorities, and backs this up with diplomatic action.
We heard that civil society in Pakistan faces numerous challenges, and at times this has compromised the delivery of aid programmes. We recommend that FCDO should continue to support the work of Pakistan’s National Commission on the Status of Women and its National Commission on Human Rights. We also agree with the FCDO’s designation of Pakistan as a Human Rights Priority Country and recommend that it continues to be designated as such.
To improve the effectiveness of UK aid in Pakistan more broadly, we recommend that the FCDO should clearly communicate its Integrated Delivery Plan to partners delivering UK aid projects in country. It should equally prioritise long-term interventions over short-term interventions and work more with local organisations and people.
Pakistan hosts the second highest number of refugees in the world, a number which has been increasing as people flee from the crisis in Afghanistan. It is important that countries capable of helping carry the financial and practical burden of supporting refugees do so, and therefore we recommend that the FCDO should ensure that the Pakistani authorities receive the necessary assistance and resources to be able to support refugees from Afghanistan.