- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For Americans, nestled between two oceans and sitting astride one of the world’s wealthiest economies, it is hard sometimes to comprehend that by providing assistance to a small Pakistani village thousands of miles away, they can change the course of history.

Similarly, Pakistanis, who live in a conflicted region episodically fraught with political and security challenges, don’t routinely recognize that Americans can make a huge difference to the average citizen struggling to make a living and feed and educate a family.

Yet, as the events of the past decade have underscored, the connection between the people of the two countries has never been more essential, with the future of both intimately intertwined because the security and prosperity of the Pakistani people are common goals for both Pakistan and the United States. A secure and economically prosperous Pakistan will be able to create greater opportunities for its people and become a much stronger ally to the United States in preserving peace and stability.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have spoken eloquently about increasing reliance on what they call “smart power” as a means of spreading stability. Smart power promotes tools such as development aid for education and medical assistance to sow stability by addressing root causes of the grievances of the people.

Although substantial efforts are already under way, we see an important opportunity - indeed, an imperative - to increase smart-power-type engagement at the civil-society level by leveraging the knowledge, skills and philanthropy of individuals in the Pakistani diaspora as well as the many private-sector friends of Pakistan, such as corporations and foundations.

While the Pakistani diaspora and private American institutions have opened their wallets generously in the past to support not-for-profit development efforts in Pakistan, a report by the Pakistan Center for Philanthropy noted, “There are significant structural hurdles that make it difficult [for Pakistani-Americans] to give more to Pakistan.”

The barriers, according to the study, include a “chronic lack of trust” in Pakistan’s civic sector, the absence of convenient mechanisms to transfer funds and of an ability to monitor how funds are being used, and a deficiency of information about the charity groups inside Pakistan.

Given these sentiments and the importance of the U.S.- Pakistani relationship, Pakistani-Americans and other friends of Pakistan have come forward to create the American Pakistan Foundation (APF), an independent private-sector-led initiative. The goal of APF is to serve as a catalyst for social and economic progress from the smallest villages to the largest cities of Pakistan through strategic philanthropy and public-private partnerships.

To address the concerns of the Pakistani diaspora head-on, APF will develop a trusted and secure channel for philanthropic giving with the highest standards for governance and transparency. APF will aim to work closely with Pakistani-American philanthropists and nurture sustainable relationships with major foundations and corporations to complement current efforts on the ground.

The Pakistani-American community has a great opportunity to develop this organization, which will impact the lives of the Pakistani people and strengthen the bonds of friendship between the Pakistani and American people.

As Mrs. Clinton said at the foundation’s inaugural event in December, “Pakistan is at a critical juncture, and we are here to show solidarity with the people of Pakistan. Whether we hail from the government or the private sector or academia, the not-for-profit sector, whether we have family ties in Pakistan or just wish that we did, we all have a stake in Pakistan’s future.”

“We want to see more [Pakistani] children in school. We want to see more mothers given the health care they need to bear and raise healthy children. We want to see more young men working toward a better future of peace and stability and prosperity,” she added.

We agree. As honorary foundation co-chairmen whose careers have been dedicated to bringing greater stability and development to Pakistan, we believe there has never been a more important period in the Pakistan-U.S. relationship.

Colin L. Powell is a former U.S. secretary of state. Moeen Qureshi is a former prime minister of Pakistan.

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