Can foreign aid projects help improve national security?

The overseas aid budget is coming under attack, both in the UK and the USA. But that shortsighted view does not take into account how working together to help communities suffering under the shadow of terrorism can actually help us combat extremism.

Poverty, poor health and global security concerns all come together in north-west Pakistan. The region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has hosted large numbers of internally displaced peoples for decades, largely refugees from Afghan conflicts. Many live in camps or work as laborers on brick kilns. It is in this challenging part of the world that an interesting example of partnership working between the UK and Pakistan is taking place that shows a way towards improving the well-being and economic prospects of the population. And we argue it may also, in a small way, assist in improving global security by enhancing local stability.

The initiative we worked on was a collaboration between a UK-based charity, The Abaseen Foundation and its partner NGO in Pakistan. This UK charity raises funds for health, education and development work in this region. An independent review of the project noted the “enormous impact” it had in providing access to previously absent health services for marginalized peoples and – importantly – thoroughly engaging the support of the community to create a sustainable legacy.

Despite the fact that projects such as this one demonstrate the value of well-managed aid in developing sustainable local resources, the very idea of overseas aid is vulnerable to political posturing that denies its value or discredits spending at times of austerity at home. Such calls can be even more shrill when the beneficiaries are in distant lands that are riven with conflict and appear to be at the forefront of exporting terrorism and anti-Western sentiments.

We believe that success stories like this offer a challenge to the rhetoric surrounding the future of overseas aid. A case can be made that spending on aid rather than war may be more productive for peace and security. The work of the charity may be some sort of antidote to alienation – promoting and capitalizing on shared affinities for a more internationalist and less insular outlook.

[The Conversation]

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