International aid and development are not synonymous

Published: March 23, 2012

Indeed, the film-maker’s achievement is undeniably praiseworthy, however, the question remains that will foreign aid, which is seen by a majority of Pakistanis as highly-partial and self-interested intervention, be fruitful? PHOTO: REUTERS

With the groundbreaking Oscar win of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and its appreciation in Western audiences, the implications of foreign funding for ‘development’ in Pakistan have been brought to the forefront.

The documentary, ‘Saving Face’, highlights the oppression of women in Pakistan and is bound to attract ‘development projects’ which aim to facilitate women’s rights. The term ‘development’ is most commonly understood as a process of social, cultural and economic growth of a country or area perceived as ‘traditional’ rather than ‘modern’.

With this premise two points come to mind.

The first question raised is that should a society be injected with a formula which is conceived by others to be ‘progressive’? The second is who decides the nature and implementation of developmental reforms which are going to bring the envisioned transformation.

With regards to the first point, some people view the intervention of international NGOs as ineffective owing to their ignorance of the culture, norms and beliefs of the locals situated in the area where development programmes are carried out. Scholars have often argued that development experts rearrange realities and construct their own image of the area in which they wish to cut and paste reforms. Another argument presented against the discourse of development is that aid agencies rarely achieve their set goals and in a counter-productive fashion, strengthen and expand the power of politically self-serving state bureaucracies.

While ‘Saving Face’ has effectively portrayed the plight of acid burn victims, it has also managed to capture this in a manner which fits the West’s version of Pakistan. Indeed, the film-maker’s achievement is undeniably praiseworthy, however, the question remains that will foreign aid, which is seen by a majority of Pakistanis as highly-partial and self-interested intervention, be fruitful? Is receiving international development aid the best solution to our problems of lawlessness, inequality and poverty or is there a homegrown alternative which can be more effective?

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anum.sadiq

Annum Sadiq

A sub-editor for the Opinion desk of The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Anonymous

    This writer should be vary of logical falicies as she is guilty of plenty in this article. First, she presumes that Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary will result in “development projects” coming into Pakistan. What evidence has she witnessed to state that claim, she does not say thus there is a false cause for even writing this piece in the first place.

    Second, the article title states that international aid and development are not synonyms but she uses them interchangeably in her post. If international aid and development are in reality not synonyms like you suggest, is a development program another word for a program funded by ‘international aid’ or is it a program actually aimed at real “development”. Definition issues like these should be avoided.

    Third, she makes a hasty generalization probably due to her time taking that on-off post-colonial course at LUMS. Just because “scholars have often argued that development experts rearrange realities and construct their own image of the area in which they wish to cut and paste reforms” doesn’t necessarily mean that all internationally funded projects are bad – especially those directed at rehabilitating acid burn victims in Pakistan – if there ever will be any. This to me seems that the author wanted to write about the double-edged sword that is International Aid (which I completely agree) but could not come up with a case study that fit within her paradigm well and settled for the case of ‘Saving Face.’

    Fourth, she completely misses the point, her statement that “…should a society be injected with a formula which is conceived by others to be ‘progressive’” has anything to do with situations like acid-burning or does the author also consider burning the faces of women with acid a form of cultural agency and/or idiosyncrasy which must be respected if not understood.Recommend